Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why Do We Love Typewriters?

My laptop is like an extension of my mind, but with a more reliable memory. But pictures of manual typewriters cause inexplicable tingles of nostalgia to run down my spine. (The site makes me croon with delight, even though I know that without my laptop I would not be seeing these images.)

I only tried to use a typewriter once—back in high school when I didn't have a computer and I thought carrying around my mother's old typewriter would be equivalent to having a laptop. It was not a "portable" typewriter by any stretch of the imagination. Writing on a heavy manual typewriter with very old ribbon in the back seat of a moving vehicle is not for the faint of heart. I had to pound the keys with all the strength in my wimpy little fingers to make any impression on the paper. Is it possible that this short-lived experiment left a pleasurable impression on my psyche? I doubt it. But what other explanation is there for my typewriter love? Watching the opening credits of old Murder, She Wrote episodes too many times?

Or maybe this yearning is a manifestation of some innate longing for connection to the past, to writing traditions? I'm certainly not the only person who loves old typewriters. There are societies, museums, and several eccentric collectors dedicated to the obsolete machines. Ads in Writer's Digest and images on writing sites are much more likely to feature typewriters than PCs. There is something aesthetically pleasing about a typewriter (particularly one with the old round keys). A beat-up laptop just looks beat-up. A beat-up typewriter has character. A computer has a brain (and frequently, a will) of its own. It's just as likely to be your antagonist as your friend. A typewriter may have a personality, but you don't have to worry that your typewriter is secretly beating your solitaire scores or surfing the web for ways to increase its radiation output when you're asleep.

And then there's the sound. I love the clicking of my computer keyboard when I'm banging away at something. But a typewriter really builds up a rhythm, especially if you've got a nice carriage return lever: Clickity-clickity-clack-clack. Ding! Ziiiiip. With that sound comes a physical connection to the work you are carving out of the air. Besides, the furious clicking of my computer keyboard could easily mean that I'm playing online Boggle instead of making progress on my novel. The sound of a typewriter always means writing is being done.

I may wax poetic, but I am not going to convert. In a (typewritten) essay on why she believes typewriters create better writers, Rino Breebraat states:
The computer automatically flags and corrects; its design choices are limitless and its printing quality is faultless. But still you don't write the same way—the machinic mutuality is completely negated and abstracted. It's all fixable later.

With typewriters there's a need to think a sentence through completely, one has to print it correctly the first time by focusing on the physical typing process, and hence the pace of the entire writing process is different.
And that is exactly why I am not trading in my laptop for an Underwood. Some days, the only thought that encourages me to write is I can fix this crap later. I often write a scene, only to find—fifty-five drafts later—where I originally thought things were going was nowhere near as interesting where they finally ended up. But those first fifty-five drafts were essential. No amount of mental preparedness can take the place of my awkward, stop-start-backspace-rewrite process. I am not a very good writer. I am becoming, however, a great re-writer. Typewriters are not kind to re-writers. If I had tried to write this blog post on a typewriter, I would now be passed out on the floor from overexposure to Wite-Out fumes. Never mind my single-handedly completing the deforestation of North America.

I still love looking at typewriters. Perhaps all I really need is a nice steampunk computer. Then I could feed my inner Luddite and still have high-speed internet.

Enough philosophy. Want to see some old, really funky-looking typewriters? You know you do. Want to see some images of famous writers and their typewriters? Why not? Want to see the awesomeness of a working steampunk laptop? Random photos of typewriter prettiness? I could link forever—this rabbit hole has no bottom.

(First image from an Odee article showcasing the amazing work of typewriter sculptor Jeremey Mayer. The image of the lovely Hansen writing ball is from The Virtual Typewriter Museum. Image of Steampunk laptop by Jake von Slatt is from a Wired article. The typewriter/waffle iron comes from artist Chris Dimino's site.)

1 comment:

  1. The new tardis design has a typewriter. that's all I'm sayin' :)