Crossing My Qs

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

I flunked typing in high school but not before I had learned the QWERTY keyboard well. I did not know then that I was dyslexic. Being able to write on this computer keyboard has helped me through the years to add a few dollars into that diminishing career that was photography. Getting a job as a photographer was tough but the moment I could write and take photographs, too, I found out that I was at a distinct advantage.

I still remember learning how to write in school in Buenos Aires and how my Segundo Superior (2nd grade) teacher taught us to avoid the curve at the bottom of the letter q and to simply cross the vertical line. And she taught us to cross our 7s and to write number 1 the Latin American style.

It was by grade 11 that my handwriting had so deteriorated that Brother Dunstan Bowles, C.S.C. refused to correct my English essays because he could not read them. I learned to write in italics and in this sequence, below, of some of my documents through the years (you can spot the deterioration) you will note the one with my italic signature. I had to type or keep writing in italics. So I typed and that was torture. But as soon as some of those early word processors appeared I was saved. I was saved by the Smith Corona PWP-40 and subsequently by the PC and Word. I no longer had to pull out the sheets of paper from the typwriter and, ball them up and throw them into the waste paper basket.

Of late I have been thinking about the thought process that happens between the flow of electricity in my neurons at the birth of one (a thought) and how that becomes a reality through the language in my head that is reading. As I write do I see in my head “write” or is it a combination of the sight of it plus the sound of it — “write”? I do know that writing in longhand and drawing is still praised in particular by designers and architects of the old school who might use computer programs only in the latter part of their design. They say that the creation of the idea needs the error of imperfection, of the unfinished.

There is no doubt that I as I write here almost every day and that I do not look at my fingers as I type (thank you Brother Jacob even though you failed me!) that my thought process is quick. Still the act of typing a thought and its intricacy from initiation to me seeing the word and sentence on my monitor is a mystery.

All the above brings me to the purpose of the blog of this day. I watch people text with their thumbs and I wonder how this affects that transfer of that idea. Is hunt and peck, thumb-thumb as efficient? It can be fast, there is no doubt in my mind as I watch my Rebecca, 15, text on her Blackberry. But is the process different to mine? Are texters at a disadvantage?

It was about 7 years ago in my last trip to Buenos Aires that a friend asked me to sit down in front of his PC and told me to dictate to it. These word recognition programs are now even more efficient but I was blown away as I could say my thoughts and the computer responded almost instantly right there. Is it only a matter of time that someone in the future, perhaps even me, will jack-in (as William Gibson wrote in his early novels) and my very thoughts, without a spoken word and with my fingers resting by the side, will be there for me to see? And will that process be any different from that one of crossing my Qs as I first did so many years ago?

Originally published at