My “Typewriter” Fixation

When I was young, my mother owned a typewriter. Many young people may not know this, but computers are a relatively new phenomenon, and yes, I belong to that age group!

The typewriter really fascinated me. I would sit and watch entranced as she punched the keys and pressed the space bar, and then there would be that “swish” and “ding” sounds as she punched the return key to get to the next sentence. I would watch in wonder as the ribbon flew up and down, sometimes showing through a red and other times a black letter onto the paper, and later that night, I would sleep with the sound clattering happily in my ears.

Those early years, I felt that owning typewriter was the best thing that could every happen to anyone, and I remember my dad laughingly offering to buy me a typewriter if I passed high school and qualified to joined university. I was only 8 years old then, but I never forgot. It became my one obsession, and I worked hard towards that goal, all through primary and high school. In the process, as the years went by, I noticed a lot of things that happened around the typewriter, whether it was at home, in school, in any office and even in movies. In high school, I was put in charge of film nights, and it was my responsibility to borrow and show movies on Saturday evenings to boarders seeking excitement from a dreary weekend. I remember watching a movie where someone was killed while typing a letter and blood sprouted into the keyboards, and I was so upset, I never showed that movie again.

If I tell you that I discovered a lot about people from watching them use the typewriter, please do not laugh. I learned a lot around the typewriter: how people had different sizes and shaped of fingers, yet they could somehow punch the keyboards. How some people could type effortlessly, with few corrections, while others had to keep stopping and correcting their errors. And then there were those who impatiently tore off the paper and restarted their work, without arranging the paper and its copy in line. The secretary who typed my letter of acceptance to graduate school was one of “them”, and look how it turned out: she assured me that, on completion, would place it on the desk of the Dean, for signature, and I should come back and pick it up the next week. The letter went AWOL, for two weeks, and was eventually found pushed inside one of the drawers in her desk. I started my course two weeks late as a result.

My mum was not really great at the typewriter. She was a trained schoolteacher, and was an amazing “people person”. I’m not sure where the idea came from for her to try secretarial work, and she attended courses in dictation, typing (keyboarding), and managing the telephone. She was awful. If she concentrated enough, she could manage 20 words per minute, but her mind would travel into space, and her practice on the squiggles that was part of taking dictation were fair, except that she often interrupted the person instructing her to give her view, like the true alpha woman she was. She eventually went into business herself (that story is for another time).

The computer age was upon us when I was in high school, and I eventually bought my first computer in grad school, to handle my data. It was called “Sungura” (this means Hare in English), and was a souped-up IBM compatible 286 desktop, as close to the typewriter as it can come now. It was the most modern computer in the lab at the time (with color screen, a big hard drive and dual floppy!), and I was really proud to own it. I bought it from James Rege, a Kenyan computer engineer, living in USA, who was putting together computers from his garage part time, and was able to give me something well above my specifications.

Like most people, I have progressed technology through the years, and now take full advantage of the interconnectivity of phones, laptops, tablets, amongst others. What still remains interesting is how much one can learn by observing how people use basic technology in different settings, but especially at casual meetings. If you are trying to close out on a deal (whether it is a possible prospect, a girlfriend or your spouse), look closely at how they handle their phone. It is often a big giveaway. It’s also useful to watch how people react when they are in a situation where phones are on silent. Then there is the care taken to maintain the phone, keeping it charged, the colors and the bling, the type of phone and ringing tones (I’ve found it interesting that many CEOs will have a family member change the tunes, and sometimes they don’t event recognize it when it rings!)

I never got the typewriter, regretfully: my father was very surprised when I reminded him years later, which says something about him (and many parents who make promises to their kids) too…

Here’s something for you to think about:

  1. What do you use as a way to tell character?
  2. How do you know if a prospect is able to say “yes” to you?
  3. Have you ever been in an interview and sensed that you are unlikely to get the opportunity you were looking for? Then it actually does happen? Have you taken time to analyze the key indicators that made you come to that conclusion?

It’s important to watch and analyze and hopefully learn, because this will help you make a better success of your interactions with people.

To engage Liz for a Speaking opportunity, email  

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