Walk into any antique shop with a typewriter sitting at arm's length and in full view of passersby, and you will inevitably see a flock of children clicking away at the keys, listening to this new music and watching the carriage move until the bell sounds. It is a study in learning theory (or the extinction burst if the typewriter happens to be dead). The BBC published an article in 2012 (Holt) when Brother's produced the last typewriter ever to roll off an assembly line. The article quotes Keira Rathbone, an artist who uses the manual typewriter as her paintbrush: "I find children's reactions particularly interesting as most small children do not even know what the machine is, and are beautifully uninhibited with their intrigue. . . . " Another quote by Tom Furrier, a typewriter repair man who originally began working on the IBM Selectric, reads: "Young people or the under-30 crowd [as] I call them, have grown up with this new technology and never experienced analogue toys and games. They are fascinated by the sensory feedback they get. The feel, the sound, seeing the printed image, immediately amazes them."
Just look at the typewriters below. Imagine that you are standing in front of these shelves. Can you feel the keys beneath your fingers? Can you hear the clicks as the keys hit the platen? Even if you have never used a typewriter you can see yourself spreading out your fingers to touch those raised and separated keys, each typewriter with a different feel, a different finger spacing, a different row height:
Many people have tried to answer the question 'why would anyone use a typewriter today.' The question really should be, why would anyone not want to use a typewriter? As with the evolution of any new equipment, the change was subtle. The first "advances in technology" were word processors, which were basically the same thing, only with editing capabilities (Kay, 2014). Later we had spell check, word check, language applications, and the list goes on. Being able to edit what you say before you type it out, have a computer do the spelling for you, and store what you type in the memory of a hard drive instead of as bulky papers locked in a filing cabinet or storage closet, all greatly improved writing efficiency. We have
also cut out the tactile sensations through the addition of softer and softer mechanisms on keyboards to reduce the effort needed to press down the keys - all the way to the point of creating key-less keyboards (Ayman, 2008)! The smells went away when we were no longer required to oil our writing machine to ensure it kept working smoothly.
So, we have given up the ability to use most of our senses while writing, the smell of the metal and oil, the sound of the keys, the weight of the keys beneath our fingers, the immediacy of a physical output that would then have to be corrected and re-typed, all in the name of efficiency. That same efficiency has finally given way to more time to be at leisure. I believe in our new-found leisure, we have had the ability and desire to slow down again, but this time while putting through the same output. The draw of the typewriter, once a necessity in every workplace, still calls, and is now the tool of hobbyists and artists. We have come full circle from using typewriters while at work as in this Smith-Corona ad below (Lusby, 2012) from the 1960s (Munk, n.d.), to using typewriters while at play, as in the second Philadelphia Type-In shown in the picture below (Galbraith, 2011):
And how not?!
(Picture at top taken from The Virtual Typewriter Museum's history collection library, https://www.typewritermuseum.org. It is a postcard advertising a Yost from 1905.)
Ayman (2008, June 13). The no-key keyboard. Retrieved from page Keyless Glas QWERTY Keyboards: https://www.trendhunter.com/
Galbraith, S. (2011, February 7). 2nd Philadelphia type-in [photos]. Retrieved from web log Geekadelphia: http://www.geekadelphia.com/
Holt, G. (2012, November 20). Five reasons to still use a typewriter. BBC News Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20410364
Kay, J. (2014, May 30). When did personal computers begin replace typewriters in American households and what advances in technology made the revolution possible? Question posted to https://www.quora.com/When-did-personal-computers-begin-replace-typewriters-in-American-households-and-what-advances-in-technology-made-the-revolution-possible
Lusby, L. (2012, December 4). Type-In Type-Out: Chestertown's first type-in & letter-writing social. [Web log picture] Retrieved from Blog: Goose Hill: http://ontopofgoosehill.blogspot.com/
Munk, T. (n.d.). The Type-In Page. Retrieved from: http://type-in.org/