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Living without technology February 17, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Tools, Uncategorized.

While sitting in the Relaxation Room at Massage Envy yesterday, I had time to relax and flip through a magazine. The January 2009 issue of Cleveland Magazine looked interesting, and an article called The Big Disconnect caught my eye. The author, Andy Netzel, explained how he decided to give up every piece of technology not in common use before his birthday in 1980 – that meant no “cell phone, cable television, mp3 player, satellite radio, computer, e-mail, Internet, call waiting, caller ID, ATM and debit card, air conditioning in my car, remote controls of any type — even Post-it notes.”

It was an interesting article, but I certainly don’t think I could do it. His description of writing a 5,500 word article on a typewriter made me shudder. I can’t even imagine having to retype the copy on a manual typewriter after proofreading and editing (three times!) – let alone his description of trying to track down a typewriter ribbon.

And don’t even get me started on how much I/we rely on the Internet, e-mail and cell phones for our clients to contact us. My clients know to call my cell if I don’t respond quickly to their e-mailed job inquiries.

The article really made me appreciate our technological advances and glad that I began my translation career just as Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 hit the scene. Those of you who were translators before then have my utmost respect!



1. MT - February 17, 2009

This is probably a geeky thing to admit, but I’m a huge fan of the PBS “house” genre. They did Frontier House, Colonial House, Texas Ranch House (not as good), Manor House, and from the UK there’s 1940s House, Coal House, Regency House Party… I even managed to watch one of the German ones online (Abenteuer 1900 – Leben im Gutshaus). Sadly no subtitles, so I’m sure I missed some of the intrigue. These are a lot of fun if you’re interested in what life might have been like without all the things we have today.

Part of the point to attempting a historical reconstruction like this is to just see what it would be like. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Fascinating. Not so sure I’d want to live like that. Watching Frontier House did make me stop and think about how much plastic and Saran wrap and other such stuff I use…

2. Judy Jenner - February 18, 2009

Amen, Jill. I can’t imagine our profession 20 years ago and I am always incredibly stunned and impressed by people who managed to translate highly technical stuff with no electronic resources at all. It seems impossible: but it was indeed possible. For me, living without technology on the professional side would be impossible. I could do away with a few personal gadgets, though and go running without my iPod, I suppose.

3. Corinne McKay - February 18, 2009

It’s amazing how fast technology changes our professional lives; I’m 37 and when I taught high school I loved to see the baffled looks on students’ faces when I told them that I was in college before I ever used a computer with a hard drive, and that I lived in France for a whole year with no e-mail. Personally I look at people who are Facebook and BlackBerry addicts and think “how is this technology helping you??” but I also think that for most translators, going entirely computer-free would be like doing the laundry in a hand-crank washing machine; quaint but utterly unproductive!

4. Amelia - February 18, 2009

Can you imagine living without a cell phone? I’m not even familiar with the new U.S. paper currency, because I use cash back credit cards for everything (they give you 1-3% cash back if you pay them off each month). However, Facebook’s privacy issues have always concerned me. And I think Twitter is my “get off my lawn!” technology. Just looks like a far-too-public waste of time.

In the 1970’s we were very craftsy, trying to see what it would be like to make many of our own things. Done now!

5. Riccardo - February 19, 2009

When I started out in translation (24 years ago) it was actually with a typewriter – albeit an electronic one, which I had received as a graduation present from my parents (my thesis I had to type on a mechanical typewriter). In very short order I passed first to a dedicated word processor (with CP/M operating system), and then to my first PC: 8086 processor, 640 KB of RAM, 10 MB of hard drive and DOS.

As regards the hardware, a puny machine, but the word processor I used by preference on it (XYWrite) was able to do anything I can do with MSWord now, and was much more flexible and faster.

The real difference for us translators has not been the PC v. the typewriter (though not having to retype everything was of course a huge bonus): it is the Internet – before that your resources were limited to what you could find on your bookshelves and, if you were lucky enough to live in a big city, to what you could find on the shelves of the local library. No browsing, no googling, no nothing. Also, no customer outside you city – at least until the fax arrived (the fun of receiving forty pages of barely legible text on curly thermal paper!)

6. jillsommer - February 19, 2009

I hear you, Riccardo! When I was in grad school at Kent the Internet was a very vague concept. I remember typing on a Selectric typewriter in high school and first worked on a (now ancient( Mac for my English class freshman year. In grad school we had PCs with Windows 3.11. We had to trudge to the university library for parallel texts – and dig into dusty card catalogs. 🙂 I had the toughest time finding a text for my thesis. I ended up translating a cover article from Der Spiegel on Waldsterben (Germany’s dying trees).

7. Dondu N. Raghavan - February 20, 2009

I started my translation practice in the year 1975 and at that time I wrote the translation by hand!

Well, here is a post from my blog on this subject dating 2005.

Please see http://raghtransint.blogspot.com/2005/09/life-before-internet.html

Dondu N. Raghavan

8. Ramon - February 23, 2009

I started translating in 1977, and then it was a mechanical typewriter. I still recall that I also had to use carbon paper because often the customer wanted 2 copies of the translation… which of course had to be brought personally to the agency. Things like Tipp-ex, for example, did not exist, so careful typing was a must.

I started working as a translator (in parallel) at a big company in 1982. Sorry, I was too “senior” to use a typewriter – I made the translations by hand, after which it was typed by the secretary and I had to review the text. Great fun! But not very quick…

I was shown the first machine translator (running on a mainframe!) around 1984. It was Systran, if I recall well. Not very good, and completely useless for the technical translations that we were doing.

My first computer (with printer and a 4.5″ floppy disk!) was a Commodore 64, only a few months after it came out. Must have been around 1983. And boy, were my customers impressed about such high tech! NONE of them even knew what a word processor was! For some time I was actually able to raise my rates because the ego of my customers actually expanded if they could say that a COMPUTER was used for their translations!

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