This month marks two pieces of technology that changed my life: the word processor and my first computer.
Evelyn Berezin passed away earlier this month at age 93. She invented the first word processor, a massive and expensive machine that evolved into the Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, and other programs you carry around on your laptop and smartphone today. She found a way to apply technology to make writing easier. For that reason, all of us who shape words into letters, plans, user guides, term papers, novels, and screenplays owe her our deepest gratitude.
This month also marks a milestone for me. Thirty-five years ago, I started my job at EnTech, a Commodore 64 software company. I started out writing press releases, but I wound up writing anything that had to be written, including user manuals. This job evolved into the technical writing career I’ve had ever since.
I soon recognized how useful it would be to have one of those devices at home. My mom agreed to give me a late Hanukkah present that year. During the After-Christmas sales in 1983, we went to Montgomery Ward in Topanga Plaza and bought a Commodore 64 with cassette drive and a joystick. When we could afford it, we added a 1541 floppy disk drive and an Epson RX-80 dot-matrix printer. I also got a copy of Paperclip, a popular Commodore 64 word processor.
Suddenly, term papers for college became less of a chore. No more retyping or worrying about pagination. Typos and missing words became problems I could deal with easily. I could focus on my content and feel comfortable about making changes up to the moment I had to print. I became a faster and better writer. I even started a novel as part of a college fiction class.
With technology, my dream of being a writer became possible. I found a way to earn a living doing what I love, and I had tools that made my writing better.
Compared to the tools I have today, my Commodore 64 and Paperclip are as primitive and limited as Berezin’s first word processor was to the computers of the 1980s. But these tools opened doors for me. They enabled me to pursue my dreams and provide for my family. For pioneers like Evelyn Berezin and pioneering devices like the Commodore 64, I will always be grateful.