The Salem Lyceum

A few weeks ago I had dinner in a restaurant housed in the former Salem Lyceum building. Lyceums were to mid-nineteenth-century America what TED talks are to our America.  Here’s a nice summary of the history of the one in Salem.  Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, Daniel Webster . . . the intellectual and political heavyweights of nineteenth-century Massachusetts all showed up here.

As the article points out, the Salem Lyceum is most famous for an event that was technical, not intellectual — Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of “long distance telephone conversations” in 1877:


Technology marches on.  I took this photo on my iPhone, which automatically sent a copy to my Dropbox account on a computer somewhere in the cloud.  Then I used my phone’s global positioning technology to map out the route back to my hotel.  I didn’t use the phone to talk to anyone.

Should I write my novel on my iPhone?

I wrote my first novel in longhand in a notebook, then typed it up on the IBM Correcting Selectric typewriter, which seemed to me to be greatest invention of the era when we got one at work.  I couldn’t afford a Selectric of my own, of course, so I stayed late at the office and came in on weekends to use the thing for my novel.  It was great!  Imagine not having to insert that stupid tape and retype the letter every time you made a mistake!  (The typewriter in this Wikipedia photo looks pretty sad. The one we had at work was blue, and it was beautiful.)

Over time the bar has been raised for technological aids to fiction writing.  For the novel I’m writing now I’ve become enamored of Dropbox, the free cloud-based storage product.  With it I no longer have to be tied to a single computer to do my writing.  That’s so late twentieth century!  Nowadays I have a desktop PC, a laptop, and two iPads.  (Okay, those two iPads may seem a bit excessive, but I also have an upstairs and a downstairs, and you wouldn’t want me to have to lug an iPad from one floor to the other, would you?)

Dropbox works on all of them.  I can use Microsoft Word to write my Dropbox documents on the desktop and the laptop, and a Word-like app called CloudOn to write them on the iPads.  (It also helps to have a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad so you don’t have to type on the screen.  I only have one of those; seems like I could use another.)  The original document is in the cloud, and I save a backup on my desktop machine.  What a brave new world!

Turns out CloudOn also works on the iPhone, so theoretically I could work on my novel anywhere and anytime — at stoplights, waiting at Supercuts, working out on the stationary bike . . . I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m sure it’ll be great.

Almost as good as writing in longhand in a notebook.