The Typewriter: Essential Tool or Obsolete Hipster Bait?

The Typewriter: Essential Tool or Obsolete Hipster Bait?

typewriter-writing-editing-tool

The gold, refurbished Olivetti Lettera 32 that I just couldn’t resist. .

Photo: Jaclyn DeVore

The Typewriter: Essential Tool or Obsolete Hipster Bait?

I posed a question on my Instagram this week about typewriters. I asked, “Typewriters: Essential tool or obsolete hipster bait?” No one, surprisingly, said the latter.

The truth is, I don’t think typewriters are either of those things. I’m not among the ranks of Tom Hanks (he wrote a book about his love of typewriters). And, although I do own a pretty Olivetti Lettera 32 (pictured above), I’m no Cormac McCarthy, either—that is, I’ve never written a novel on my typewriter, nor have I been using one for half a century.

The typewriter may be a marvelous and durable machine — the Olivetti Cormac McCarthy used for almost 50 years certainly outlived my last computer—but it’s still a piece of technology that’s been supplanted by the computer. One may be able to type a draft of a manuscript on a typewriter (note: switching mediums like that is great for writers to get unstuck with a project), but that manuscript will have to be digitally rendered at some point to publish it (unless maybe you’re going for some avant-garde piece, in which case, good luck!).

Typewriters have also become a shorthand symbol in the world of social media to mean “I’m a writer.” I definitely use pictures of them on my Instagram account. As the bridge between analog and digital writing, typewriters are easy to romanticize. Some may long for the “better days” when people used typewriters, but here’s the thing: It takes time and skill to use a typewriter, well, skillfully.

When I first used my typewriter, it took me a half an hour to type out an address label for a package I was sending to my best friend. Seriously. There is no backspace button. Sometimes the keys stick or fail to strike.

Some may argue these traits are part of the typewriter’s charm, like Richard Polt: “For the sheer pleasure of the act of writing, I very much enjoy a manual typewriter. It’s like riding a bike instead of driving: sometimes efficiency is not the point.”

Even though I would never give up the efficiency a computer provides my professional life, there is something soothing about using a typewriter. A hypnotic rhythm can arise from the sound and feel of the manual keystrokes and the ding that lets you know you’ve reached the margin.  

So, while some may lament the demise of the typewriter, technology evolves, just as when ballpoints replaced fountain pens. There’s still room for both the typewriter and the computer in my world, but I’m certainly grateful I don’t have to do my editing work or write this blog on my pretty Olivetti—I’ll save her for stylized holiday package labels and those times when I need a little extra creative inspiration.

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