Tom Hanks’ haircut was grim testimony to the fashions of that era but versions of it are still around today, in certain communities. The American cars of that era provided few clues, given that none were ever sold in these parts of the world. Thank goodness. I was so curious about the age of the movie, I had to resort to my good friend Google.
Those of you who have seen Sleepless will know that Sam Baldwin’s (Tom Hanks’ character) son Jonah conspired with his girlfriend and booked a one-way ticket to New York – online somehow, resplendent with gorgeous CGA graphics.
There’s not a cellular phone in sight. Indeed this movie was devoid of what is now the ubiquitous cordless phone, with all the movie’s calls made on devices attached to wall sockets by cords.
But the real show-stopper for me was seeing offices equipped with golfball typewriters – the IBM Selectric II, to give this device its proper name. That brought back some memories.
Although workable electric typewriters were first developed in the 1920s, they never really eclipsed their manual hammer-action cousins. The reason for this was because electric machines employed the same hammer action system. Given that the QWERTY keyboard was deliberately designed to slow down typists using manual machines, to stop the hammers colliding or worse, there was little advantage to be had by powering this action electrically.
Nothing really changed until the early 1960s when IBM launched the Selectric with all of the type characters imprinted onto one moving part of about golfball size. Hence the reason for its nickname. Sheer brilliance. Goodbye hammer jams. Eventually these devices were also fitted with an erasing tape. Goodbye correction liquid.
Even then manual typewriters still ruled the office world, largely because they were comparatively low-cost, extremely reliable and efficient.
My first Proper Job was as a journalist for the then New Zealand Farmer magazine. I started in November 1979, two days before flight TE-901 inadvertently collided with a mountain in Antarctica. I was issued with an Adler Gabriele manual typewriter. It was gorgeous, and famous for powering newsrooms around the world. Mine was occasionally stricken with writer’s block, but that’s another story.
In February 1984 I moved to Wellington. On my first day at work I saw two things that left a lasting impression on me: the first was the woman who was to later become my wife; the second was an IBM Selectric II – I spent several hours just playing with the thing and marvelling at its mechanical sophistication. I am a sucker for beautiful things.
Yet within a couple of years the golfball had gone. It was replaced by a keyboard and a CGA graphics screen connected to a mainframe computer using some Data General software that allowed word processing, spreadsheeting and databasing tasks to be performed. Six months after that a PC turned up, powered by MS-DOS and featuring Wordstar 2000. And games! Woo hoo!
In a while along came the best ever word processing software ever invented – WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS. This software has never been bettered. But that’s a whole story in itself. WordPerfect’s immense capabilities took a huge step backwards when Windows showed up as the operating system of choice, and an even huger plunge when Mr William Henry Gates III started bundling the inferior MS Word with the Windows operating system installed on every computer not made by Apple.
Amongst all this came email and the mobile phone, neither of which were responsible for keeping Sam Baldwin awake at nights in Seattle. That was 1993. Those ubiquitous life enhancements would no doubt have shattered his slumbers in 2013.