I first heard the term “paperless office” when I was working on my campus newspaper in the early eighties. Twice a week our decrepit newsroom resounded with the clacking of manual typewriters. We knew, of course, that we were doing our writing on an anachronism. I wrote my term papers on a sleek IBM Selectric, which my parents bought for me when I was in high school. The novel technology of that period was an insertable cartridge that allowed to correct mistakes in white ink. I first came across a personal computer in 1983. I recall it cost somewhere around $1,ooo, equivalent to almost $2,500 today.
Even then, we knew that the newspaper business was in decline. The economic problems of the late seventies and early eighties—first inflation, then recession—led to a joint operating agreement between Seattle’s two dailies. The newspapers continued to strive to outdo each other, but something had been lost. The print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the more flamboyant paper, was terminated in early 2009, a casualty of the Great Recession.
I have my own reason to favor printed information over pixels on a screen. When I am doing my research for my blog, I sometimes find it onerous to accurately transcribe information from online sources. This should be a simple task, of course, but Alzheimer’s tends to scramble the equation. I work on a Macbook, which makes it easy to take customized screenshots that I intend to quote or paraphrase from—with attribution, of course. The process is tedious, and sometimes confounds me. Using a six-by-nine-inch flip notebook, I transcribe key passages of whatever I happen to be writing about, being careful not to plagiarize. For many years in my thirties, I taught college composition courses for international students, and I was constantly reminding my students the difference between using a quote and using a paraphrase.
When I was working on a recent post, I assumed that I was all set. Then I realized I’d written a very similar long sentence later in the same paragraph. Through a combination of bad habits and short-term memory erosion, I can’t always trust myself to do something as seemingly easy as accurately transcribe information from a series of screenshots. I do this on a nine-inch by six-inch spiral notepad. It’s slow going, but since I usually have the time, I don’t mind transcribing the information. Still, it’s humbling to grasp Alzheimer’s progress. The disease moves in only one direction.