The Road to Transcription
by Ellen Kolman, CET
Let me start with a disclaimer. This is not a technical article about transcription, but just an anecdote of how I got involved in transcription and to perhaps take some of you down memory lane.
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, there were two paths to take in high school; academic and business. I chose the academic route. At one point, I had to take an elective. My mother suggested I take typing. Not typing. Not for me. Boasting, I was on the academic track. Business course no way. What did I need that for? This was in the early 1970s. But I acquiesced because no other electives seemed appealing. I thought about taking metal shop but the welding mask would have messed up my hair. So tap, tap, and tap away on a manual typewriter I go. I think it was a Royal, if memory serves me right. So I passed the course, graduated from high school, and the next step was college.
I longed to be an interior decorator. I envisioned myself decorating fancy mansions, going to antique stores and funky furniture stores, decorating with Chinese Ming vases and gorgeous Persian rugs and whatnot. I applied to three colleges; two had decorating courses and one did not. The one that didn't was closer to home and my brother's alma mater, which he encouraged me to apply to. I was accepted at all three but where do I go? My brother convinced me to stay closer to home. So I listened to him, attended his alma mater, and chose the legal secretarial course there: typing, shorthand, office procedures, and the like. So much for the exciting decorating world, except now my husband always wonders why I'm always moving the furniture around.
The two courses that I really enjoyed were shorthand and, believe it or not, typing. Why typing? It was the age of the machine. The MTST, Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter, a line editor -- for those of you who remember them -- were all the rage. Wow! No more need for correction tape or correction fluid, a/k/a/ Liquid Paper. Turn the dials to have the machine line up with the line where the word is to be corrected, count the spaces to the word that needed correcting, and type over the word. How exciting. I was the go-to girl to do my classmates' homework on the MTST machine. I loved it.
I started my career and while working, I decided to take a court reporting course, using those little square black machines and lightly pressing down on a combination of keys to form words. In addition, you get to sit in the courtroom where all the action was; drama, and it wasn't yours. I remember our teacher telling us that some court reporters paid someone to read the paper tapes created by the machine and type up the transcript. At the time, I thought how boring that would be and that being in the courtroom is the place to be.
Well, I got married, moved away from home, and the closest school that would enable me to finish my court reporting course was over an hour away. I would have to travel partway down a long deserted road and that just wouldn't cut it. So I reluctantly had to give up on that idea.
At one point, I worked for a large company where we had word processors which the IT department programmed to use the hexadecimal system to enter commands to insert commas, quotes, underscore, bold, super- and sub-scripts, et cetera. It was a lot of keystrokes but what fun while my now electric typewriter sits and waits for me to type up envelopes and make labels. The green screen on the processor was even a full-page screen making it much easier to see what you were correcting as opposed to the MTST which showed only a few lines.
Then, the company switched over to the up-and-coming, fully- loaded word processors. No more hexadecimal coding. Type and correct as you go, and no one would ever know where your mistakes were. The keyboard was quick, quick, quick. Okay, not as quick as they are now, but they were quick and didn't hurt your fingers like a manual typewriter did. It was a toss-up between Wang and Vydec. Because my department was responsible for bringing in these new fancy machines and I was the head secretary, I was chosen to be trained on the Vydec machine. We chose that because Vydec was a full screen where Wang was a half screen. Eventually, Vydec went by the wayside and Wang really took off and became a frontrunner in the word processing field. Later IBM took the lead and Wang disappeared.
However, once I had children and stayed home to raise them, I purchased a used Selectric typewriter and took on typing reports for college students as a way to make some extra money. I also worked part-time for six weeks at a law firm that was transitioning from Vydec to Wang. They needed someone to help with the workload while the switch was being made, because the typing pool gal was out on maternity leave.
Fast forward. Computers really came into fashion at least one in almost every home. Typing for college students was no longer needed as they could now do it themselves. So I said bye-bye to that. Eventually, I re-entered the working world and back into the office I went.
Many years later, an opportunity arose to be able to work at home as a legal electronic transcriber. That sounded interesting. I had all the experience and I enjoyed the legal field and was quite comfortable with a computer. By now, typing was second nature and my fingers could fly across the keyboard of a computer. Typing courtroom proceedings would give me the opportunity to hear a story unfold every day. Being an avid reader, this sounded intriguing.
I've noticed in the past seven years as a transcriber that with all the advances in technology, the one thing that is still in use is the foot pedal. I used it for dictation from cassettes (remember those) that my boss would record back in the day and continue to use it today with my audio. For me, using a foot pedal with audio works better than shortcuts, but I'm glad the option is there if the need arises.
Transcription work is rewarding; sometimes exciting (whodunits), sometimes boring (financials), sometimes sad and disturbing (criminal cases), and sometimes frustrating (bad audio). All in all, it's not a bad way to make a living and help keep that roof over your head, food in your stomach, and clothes on your back. Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages and that's for another time, but, for now it's working. Happy transcribing.
Ellen Kolman is an AAERT Certified Transcriber. She has been with eScribers for 7 years. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, has lived in 7 cities in the United States, and has traveled to Europe, Taiwan, and Mexico. She spent 3 months in China and was able to bring her trusty laptop with her to enable her to continue working and take in the sights too, of course. firstname.lastname@example.org