Typewriter Nostalgia in a Digital Age

I always find nostalgia for anything analog interesting. There have probably been more technological advances in the last 30 years than the previous 5000 combined. Our iPhones and iPods are basically pocket-sized computers and they’re practically obsolete the moment they hit the streets! And yet there are entire subcultures formed around nostalgia for older “simpler” technologies like record players or VHS tapes. There are perpetual debates now about the superiority of physical books versus e-books, or the difference between writing in a journal or on a computer (the latter of which captivates us at Paperblanks for obvious reason!) And the latest subculture of nostalgists to get a little publicity? Typewriter enthusiasts!

The New York Times has a nice slideshow and article about a new culture of typewriter-nostalgic revivalists. These people love and appreciate these old-school machines and even gather together at bars and bookstores for “type-ins.” And what the article particularly notes is the youth of these revivalists. Many of them are “first time users” who “grew up on computers” and are “too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid.”

What’s more, there are now products like the USB Typewriter popping up – basically a typewriter modified to connect to your computer or iPad:

Something like this wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for it.

So what’s the deal with this nostalgia? (Outside of boring fashionable rebellion of course. The NYT article quotes a Philosophy professor-cum-typewriter collector who, explaining his devotion, exclaims “It’s kind of like saying, ‘In your face, Microsoft!’”)

Simplicity

Undeniably, writing on a computer is faster and it makes your writing searchable, easier to edit and easier to share and spread. That aside, there are ways in which a typewriter simplifies the actual process of writing.

With a typewriter there are fewer distractions that interrupt and impede productivity. There’s no need for formatting. There’s no spell-checking and auto-formatting interruptions. There’s no web-browsing, email or any other multitasking possibilities to distract you. For typewriter enthusiasts, when you sit down in front of a typewriter, all there is is the writing.

Tangibility

As one of the article’s interviewees puts it, “I love the tactile feedback, the sound, the feel of the keys underneath your fingers.”

Typewriters give writers more of a tangible experience. And outside of sensory stimulation, there’s also the closer connection one might feel to the printed word – of seeing it produced right there on the paper. To say nothing of the fact that they have something to physically hold onto upon a page’s completion.

Romanticism

I recently re-watched the classic 70’s movie Network (yes, on fancy 21st-century Blu-Ray technology) and any time a scene took place in a 70’s-era newsroom one detail in particular would grab my attention: the soundtrack was filled with the all-consuming click-clack-click-clack hum of typewriters. (And just as an aside: outside of the fashion and the typewriter-happy newsrooms, that movie has never been more relevant.) Typewriters remind us of a different era. And there’s a kind of romanticism that comes with that.

And there’s also the fact that so many great writers typed out some of the greatest works of literature on these machines – and that there’s so much romantically-black-and-white evidence of that fact. Check out this slideshow of “Famous Authors and their Typewriters.”

If a typewriter was good enough for Hemingway and Faulkner…

What do you Think?

Tell us below – what kind of feelings do you get from using – or even just seeing – a typewriter?

3 comments on “Typewriter Nostalgia in a Digital Age

  1. I am one of those young (23) typewriter enthusiasts who grew up with computers. I love typewriters, I just do. I aspire to be a novelist and the typewriter is the paintbrush of my craft. I got my first one October of 2010 and now have over 20. I have even sold a few of them and made a little money cleaning and fixing them up. I hope this a growing trend, but right now is the perfect time to buy up and collect these still neglected machines.

  2. 02.05.12
    I’m 57. I always wanted to learn to type when I was young, but it wasn’t until I joined the Coast Guard that I was able to learn how. Typing was actually a big part of my job as a radio operator. First listening to morse code with headphones on and typing morse code messages from ships, then using a teletype with paper punch tape to broadcast messages to large networks of teletype equipped agencies. Typing on a manual typewriter was important because if the electricity on a ship failed, at least messages could still be written and sent via morse code. The morse code transmitter had it’s own DC power supply – and a back-up.
    After leaving the service, I needed to adapt to using computer keyboards. Nowhere near as much fun, and I sold my manual Smith Corona at a garage sale in 1988 for $10.00. I’ve regretted that ever since.
    Last summer, I found a spectacular machine on a Craigslist sale near my home and purchased a mint – almost brand new – condition 1941 Royal with the glass caps over the keys for a ridiculously low $25.00. It works perfectly and looks like new. I was able to get 2 new ribbons and some ink at a local Office Max.
    My wife hates the noise that it makes, but when I type a page on a typewriter, I feel like it’s a process, something that is important not to let it slip away.
    MB

  3. Pingback: 12 Beautiful But Strikingly Weird Pictures of Typewriters – Paperblanks Blog

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