“In the beginning…” to borrow from the most quoted book in the English language, someone created the yellow lined pad. There was also a white lined version, but it never seemed to catch on. With two red lines ruling the left border, the YLP comes in three sizes: the most familiar 8 ½ by 11, the small 5×8 and the legal size, 81/2 by 14. I guess lawyers always have more to say than the rest of us.
Generations of high school and college students scribbled their tortured drafts of English compositions and history papers on yellow lined pads. There was a certain pleasure in starting a clean thick YLP. It felt solid beneath the pen or pencil. But as the pages diminished to a thin tablet, ideas seemed to come more slowly. Better start a fresh YLP. That would do it.
Of course the YLP was a giant step up from the composition books of the elementary years. Some of you will remember those notebooks with the black and white marbleized hard covers. Those were the real proving grounds of our ability, or lack of same, to put words together that made some sense. Learning to think on paper happens earlier these days, in the first and second grades. Some children are starting to print in pre-school and kindergarten.
In addition to students and lawyers who use the YLP to define and sharpen their arguments and beliefs, there are the list makers of all occupations, shapes and sizes. The smaller YLP usually appears at the super market for food shopping. A page can also turn up on a desk or refrigerator as the daily To Do list, taped in a prominent position to keep the owner on target. Commuters on vehicles of all sorts — buses, trains, subways and airplanes — can be seen writing furiously on their YLP. One often has the urge to peek and see what’s so important. It almost becomes a badge of honor or mystery to whip one out and intensely wield one’s pen.
But change occurred many decades ago when the successor to the YLP appeared on the scene — the typewriter. First, the manual (James Michener never gave his up.) and then the electric. The regular variety and the portable. High school and college students typed their final versions of papers or inveighed upon friends who knew how to type. The last resort was to pay to have it typed. Everyone knew the teachers read the typed papers first, then the hand -written jobs. When typewriters hit, some of us had severe separation anxiety from our beloved yellow lined pads. We would first write in long hand and then type it up. We would make all our corrections in writing rather than do rewrites on the machine. There was such comfort and habit to putting pencil or pen to paper. It was a smooth tactile pleasure.
When it was suggested that we could put our ideas immediately onto the typed page, we recoiled. Never! It just wouldn’t work, we insisted. We couldn’t think that way. Until, one day, we tried and the scales fell from our eyes. We discovered that transmitting ideas moved at a much faster pace. It was exciting! It meant, of course, that one had to know or learn touch typing. Hunt and peck was out of the question. And then the self-corrective typewriter arrived. Granted one had to change the messy corrector tape and the basic tape manually, but it did correct errors. Another leap forward.
Finally, the technological revolution erupted and the personal computer (PC) changed our lives. As writers, were we ready for the brave new world? Using a word processor sounded unfriendly. Daunting. Why not cling to the familiar? The Chinese have a symbol for change that can be read as ‘opportunity’ or ‘danger’. Which would it be? Working with a PC, one had the screen (monitor) and a ‘mouse’. The words appeared right before one’s eyes. And changing the words, sentences and paragraphs was truly a new form of magic. There was no throwing of the carriage manually. This was really something! What more could one ask for?
The answer: The Internet and E-mail. That’s what. It’s not enough to carry one’s lap top PC onto the airplane and do your personal or business writing. That’s old hat. Get with it. If you’re not on the Internet, you’ve missed the 21st century. And then there came texting , a shortened form of communication using only one’s thumbs. OMG is nothing sacred?
E-mail has supplanted snail mail for many people. Instant and easy, it makes daily communication with family and friends an important part of one’s life. Whether one is buying tickets for the theater or visiting museums and gardens all over the world, the Internet provides the avenues. Google and Yahoo are resources for research and information on every imaginable subject. You Tube and Face Book have become social networks for millions around the world. The Arab Spring went viral on social media. Candidates announce entry into the Presidential race on Twitter!
Looking back to the days of the YLP, the odyssey of change has been most difficult for those who preferred to stay with what was known and comfortable. Learning new technical skills is a challenge. Some were more adept at this than others. Finally, the ultimate hurdle was accepting that unless we joined the wave of the future, we would be as archaic as the dinosaurs. Our grandchildren would be more in tune with the world than we. That realization spurred us forward. The beloved yellow lined pad became a relic of the past as we conquered our trepidations and mastered the new screens, icons and systems. This odyssey of change over the years has been traumatic for some and a joy ride for others. And there are those who still refuse to buy a ticket. If you still are considering the leap with a mixture of anticipation and dread, do come aboard. You don’t want to miss this world class experience.