Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Comeback Of Typewriters!

I really like typewriters. I've made numerous posts about them. So I'm thankful to PGS contributor Elyss Punsalan (she of Pakinggan Pilipinas fame) for informing me of this article, The Latest In Typewriter Repair, which talks about the comeback of typewriters among those who are more familiar with high-tech gadgetry. It tells about how a typewriter repairman has noticed that the popularity of the machines seems to be on the rise. The article author also speculates whether writing on a computer versus a typewriter may (or may not) affect the outcome of a piece, given the two machines' different mechanics (just try copying/deleting/pasting on a typewriter!). An excerpt:

Being allowed to affect this style of polite impertinence is, in my estimation, one of the great privileges of advanced age, and Whitlock seems to relish his role as the tweedy emissary from a kinder, simpler time. He worries, predictably, that the Internet has ruined our young minds: “You don't have to have a brain anymore. You can just push a button.” But buried within Whitlock’s bewilderment over twenty-first-century life is the puzzling hypothesis that the popularity of typewriters is actually on the rise. “Youngsters,” the repairman says, have been buying junked typewriters and asking him to help fix them up.

Indeed, nostalgia for typewriters, even—or perhaps especially—among those of us who never used them in the first place, seems to become stronger with the release of each new fancy gadget. For around five hundred dollars, you can buy a typewriter that connects to your iPad via USB port. (The creator of the device wryly describes it as “groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence.”) At Etsy.com, there are thousands of listings for pieces of jewelry made out of antique typewriter keys. And isn’t our tortured fascination with the steamy, boozy, workplace drama of “Mad Men” fueled, at least partly, by the clackety-clack of secretaries typing away? Our more-or-less silent offices are eerily tomb-like, by comparison.

I’m certainly not the first to note that the ability to delete, copy, paste, and re-arrange has changed the writing process. If I’d drafted this post on a typewriter, the result would likely be different, but I’m not entirely sure how. Would I have made quicker progress, without trying out so many different variations of the first line? Would having to re-type from the beginning, rather than replacing a single word or phrase, change how I thought about revision? It would be an interesting experiment. At the very least, it would be a relief to use a machine dedicated to writing alone—one that cannot also receive e-mail, news alerts, and Facebook messages. But when I ask my parents about their experiences with typewriters, all I get are horror stories about Wite-Out.

I wonder if the typewriter will become the record player of the literary world: a dusty old contraption that becomes fashionable among a generation of people who have always had access to newer, sleeker versions of the same thing. The very coolest music lovers insist that we should all switch back to vinyl, even after almost everyone else has moved from CDs to MP3s. Listening to a record is thought to be better than listening any other way, even if no one can quite articulate the reason for why this is so. Have the very coolest young writers similarly decided that writing on a typewriter is better, in some deep, indescribable way, than using a computer?

It’s an unanswerable question, perhaps, but the quiet resurgence of interest in typewriters has ensured that, oddly enough, Manson Whitlock isn't the only typewriter repairman in the news lately.

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