From typewriters to smartphones | Wally’s World

I learned to type on a manual typewriter that had 50 keys. Then, before I turned around twice, there were electric typewriters, which were an improvement of sorts, but not much.

By Wally DuChateau


I learned to type on a manual typewriter that had 50 keys. Then, before I turned around twice, there were electric typewriters, which were an improvement of sorts, but not much. The real “astounding” advance came with the computer and spell-check and the printer which, unfortunately, relegated 70 percent of the nation’s secretaries to the trash pile.   Such is the price of progress and revolutions.

Today, my computer has 113 keys. Yet, the most I ever use is 52. That’s 61 keys I never used and have no earthly idea what they do.

Similarly, back in the day, my microwave had a timer-dial and that was it. There were no other controls. A current Sears’ model has 33 buttons, few of which make any sense to me. What the hell is “Lbs Defrost” and how does it differ from “Auto Defrost”? And what, pray tell, is “Control Lock” or “Mini-Options”? Really now, all I want to do is pop some popcorn.

With the digital revolution, nearly all of our products have become increasingly complex. I suspect this has something to do with our consumer-oriented culture. We always want more stuff for our money, so manufactures think they have to provide more and more functions.

Take as another example, the iPhone. It has such an array of features, it’s original, core function of talking to someone is nearly lost in the mess. Now admittedly, taking iPhone photos of a natural disaster or an auto accident or a crime while it is being committed might be of considerable value but, generally speaking, I have no use for this option. (If I’m going on a vacation, I’ll take a camera, thank you.) Similarly, I generally have no use for Internet access on my phone, though I can recall one instance in which it helped solve an argument I was having with a friend. Neither do I have any desire to play any digital games. And, strange enough, there’s no one I have to text because I’d rather talk to them – which, I’ll remind you again, is the original purpose of the phone.

Nevertheless, I’m quite thrilled – and I’m compelled to repeat this – I’m absolutely thrilled that the iPhone can perform all these operations. It’s wonderful that you have immediate access to the New York Stock Exchange but, personally, I have no use for this. In like manner, I honestly find it’s quite splendid that you can call up a movie. I mean, 20 years ago who would have thought such a thing would ever be possible. Yet, I prefer my movies in a theater or at least on a 40-inch TV. Watching them on a 2-inch screen seems ridiculous to me.

In the old days, if your typewriter, microwave or phone went haywire, you could take it back to the dealer and he’d fix it.   Today, of course, there’s no such thing;  instead, we merely throw it away – as if we don’t have enough garbage already –and buy a new one, which will be a vastly improved model because in the last few months the latest model has acquired another 20 or 30 new functions.

And, if you understand all these operations, unlike myself, and if you’ve mastered their use, unlike myself, then you’re optimally prepared for the coming age in which man and computer will become ever more, indivisibly, fused together.

But in the interim, just give me a phone I can talk on.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Opinion

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at
Reasons to ban Gov. Jay Inslee’s natural gas ban | Brunell

Column: Switching from natural gas to electricity is complicated and will impact everyone.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
Can a Texas-style abortion law happen in Washington? | Roegner

If politicians really want to anger women voters, the easiest way is… Continue reading

LtE bug
Powering the future and doing away with landfills

Here’s how we can reduce waste and generate power at the same time.

LtE bug
Thankful for our community

Enumclaw stepped up.

LtE bug
Crimes by illegal immigrants are 100 percent preventable

Shannon’s column told it like it is.

LtE bug
Responses to letter writers, columnists

Thoughts on the many letter writers in the recent edition of the Courier-Herald.

Carol Spell, "Education, Appreciation and Action"
The gift of education | Education, Appreciation, and Action

Four goals of education: Knowledge, wisdom, spiritual perception, and eloquent speech.

Rich Elfers, “In Focus”
Are mandated vaccinations constitutional?

Personal opinion and emotion do not have the force of law.

LtE bug
Thank you for caring about Philip

A short thank you for those who looked after us.

Most Read