My boy's AlphaSmaht

Got something fun in the mail today. I ordered it from eBay on my birthday, as a gift to myself to help with writing.

AlphaSmart 3000 keyboard fresh out of the bubble wrap

The AlphaSmart 3000 was released in 2000 as an upgrade to previous models in the AlphaSmart line of word processors. The font choice, keypad, shortcut controls, and key names (eg. “cmd”) were apparently all meant to be familiar for Apple users. This played well with the 3000’s biggest new feature: USB. The port format was so new and hip at the time that AlphaSmart released the 3000 in a bondi-blue plastic case to visually tie-in with the first generation of iMac (then the principle driver of USB).

Fortunately for me, writing this in 2020, USB hasn’t managed to be completely killed off yet. My 2012 iMac will connect with the AlphaSmart 3000 natively. My work-issued 2020 MacBook Pro surprinsingly will as well; albeit with a dongle to convert from from USB-C. How often can you still make use of 20-year-old tech without it being a major undertaking? Let alone being an enjoyable experience!?

You may be thinking “Ok, you hipster goon, go clack away at your mechanical keyboard and stop wasting our time.” Totally fair. Buying a prehistoric word processor with an LED screen that displays four lines at a time (though, I must say, the character spacing, line height, and line length are all beautifully readable) does seem like a fairly foolish endeavour. For me, however, this helps address a genuine struggle.

A short story about Obi Wan saying "hello there" displayed on the AlphaSmart's LCD screen

I’m in that range of millenials (sometimes referred to as xennials) who have full, fond, childhood memories of the world sans internet. I remember writing my first essays on a typewriter and marking in the accents (I was in French immersion) with a pen. I recall the novelty of exploring the internet for news on the the THX remaster of the Star Wars trilogy when it was generally a place filled more with good-willed, curious tech-heads than it was with Russian trolls and baby fascists. It was a magical, naive place. The first time I bought something online, my (parents’) credit card number was sent in plain text and the protocol was “http” — and I actually received the purchase without having my identity pillaged. The point is: I started exploring and crafting creativity, language, and art when sitting in front of a screen all day was a rare and privledged experience. Those were the days.

The past near-decade, while I’ve worked in the tech world as a web developer, I’ve had less and less desire to sit in front of a screen as a hobby after spending 8-12 hours a day, doing exactly the same thing for a paycheque. Sure, I’ve managed to type out a few finished pieces (including the only feature-length screenplay I’ve ever completed) over that time, but it comes with great effort, heavy self-fladulation, and a raging inner critic who happily has his way with my lack of progress. Not to mention the extra pressure it places on my wife and children when I’m furious with myself for, in my estimation, failing spectacularly at nearly every writing attempt. Given the results, it is little wonder that my defensive reaction has been to pull back from the passtime I so dearly love and the craft I’ve been aching to hone.

Cue my good friend Daniel, the fellow who trained for and ran my birthday half-marathon at my side. He bought himself an AlphaSmart 3000 a couple of months prior, due in large part to many of the same struggles I’ve had. We spent a chunk of that 21 kilometers in July talking about his experiences with it to that point. By the fourth split, I was sold. I ordered mine that afternoon and have been refreshing eBay’s shipping updates in the days since.

How is it working out so far? Well, I’ve managed to power through this piece in a single session without checking the internet (except to be sure I got the release date correct), wasting time on Facebook, or fighting with weak wifi failing to sync with Google Docs. I was able to stand at the work bench in my garage and listen to the Meat Puppets on casette (again with the raging hipsterdom, I know) and type this up while waiting for the wood glue to dry on a shelf I’m constructing. And the best part? The USB transfer guarantees that I don’t have to manually type up a hand-scrawled monstrosity.

I would say that’s a pretty decent show of success so far. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be running a manual spell check and fighting with the results of a 20-year-old dictionary. Really - ”AlphaSmart” isn’t even recognized!?

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