broadsideblog

TapTapTapTapTap — Ding! The Return Of Typewriters

In antiques, art, behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, design, History, journalism, Media, news, Technology, work on April 6, 2011 at 11:13 am
Typewriter adler3

Image via Wikipedia

Typewriters are back!

Not only are they back, but hipster kids newly discovering the joys of a Smith Corona (not some obscure beer) or Olivetti (not an olive oil!) are even holding type-ins to celebrate these quaint, sturdy little writing machines, reports The New York Times:

“Can I touch it?” a young woman asked. Permission granted, she poked two buttons at once. The machine jammed. She recoiled as if it had bitten her.

“I’m in love with all of them,” said Louis Smith, 28, a lanky drummer from Williamsburg. Five minutes later, he had bought a dark blue 1968 Smith Corona Galaxie II for $150. “It’s about permanence, not being able to hit delete,” he explained. “You have to have some conviction in your thoughts. And that’s my whole philosophy of typewriters.”

Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Smith had joined a growing movement. Manual typewriters aren’t going gently into the good night of the digital era. The machines have been attracting fresh converts, many too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid. And unlike the typists of yore, these folks aren’t clacking away in solitude.

They’re fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins,” they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest.

As someone old enough to have begun her journalism career working on a typewriter, I remember well the joys and frustrations — fingers covered in Wite-out! No delete key! Physical cutting and pasting! – that went along with it.

My first typewriter was a lightweight correspondent’s model with its own vinyl shoulder carrying case, a Hermes Baby. My lifelong dream was to file from exotic locales and, for decades, this was the tool to use! I loved its turquoise letters and drop-proof metal casing. As long as I had the essentials — paper and a fresh ribbon — I could write anywhere, anytime, knowing, and feeling a cool sort of kinship with, all the others before me who had filed their dispatches in similar fashion.

The part I miss the most?

That delicious Ding! when you hit the end of a line.

Not to mention the delicious crunch-and-toss of every offending page that just wasn’t good enough.

  1. I was given a portable manual typewriter by my parents when I was a teenager and I spent hours typing out stories on it. I loved the sense of machinery it gave to the process of writing, but nowadays I think the sense of waste would put me off. All the paper that would go through it, the ribbons etc, would add to my sense of annoyance whenever I wrote something that was not good enough (quite often).
    Maybe I should buy an antique one as a curio and leave it in the centre of a desk in my study as a permanent reminder that I should be writing.

    • Some writers refuse to use a computer…and a happy medium, if you can even find one, would be an electric typewriter, like an old IBM Selectric, quite the thing in its day.

      I think the fashion is in now because these machines are also quite lovely to look at…even the sleekest Mac (and I use two) is only shiny white plastic…not the funky clunky style of a typewriter.

  2. Typing class in high school. Turning the handle on the side to carefully load the two page form with a piece of carbon copy in between. Too much white liquid paper used on the paper, leaking through on the round barrel, where the keys hit, making the impression of the letter.
    Though the ‘Ding” is a wonderful memory, I miss holding the creation in my hands, after pulling it up out of the typewriter. I also miss the thoughts typed out too quickly, jamming the keys.

  3. There was a very specific sound when you ripped the paper too eagerly out of the platen! So true.

    The irony for me, as someone who writes for living — I don’t know how to touch type! My sweetie, a photo editor, does…

    He says my typing has a very distinctive rhythm, which it does, because I can quickly bang out a pile of words then…backspace furiously to delete all the mistakes!

  4. We had a “manual” typewriter when I was a kid and I used to love typing out thoughts, stories and letters. I agree when folks above have said how beautiful they are to look at — and so sturdy.

    When I was a teen my sister got an electric typewriter and I didn’t like that as much, though feeling the “power” of those keys being ready to jump was something.

    • I think what we lose with computer keyboards (although I do love how quiet they are when you are working for many hours) is the tactile nature of working with a machine. The thump thump thump if you were mad or excited was much more real than the oh-so-quiet and polite tapping…

      My sweetie works at the NYT and the newsroom, like all of them, now so much resembles an insurance office…so hushed! One long for the noisier days.

  5. ahhh yes the romantic nostalgia of the heavy metal

    agreed what is esthetically pleasing about a laptop – even a MAC?

    memories of childhood schooldays and how difficult it was to raise my word count in typing class – but also thinking how ‘grown up’ I would be someday to own one for my ‘self’

    great blog post thanks for the daydream

    • I do admit I love the clean whiteness of the Mac and, given the insane number of hours I now spend attached to it, I do appreciate the flat keys and how quiet they are and how easy to use.

      I don’t miss the smudges and filthy fingers of typewriters, although I love them aesthetically.

  6. I think about the speed of typing that has changed with computer key boards. Your fingers had to be strong and fast to work those old fashioned key boards. How cold anyone type fast on those things was beyond me.

    Oh and the ding. You are right. What a beautiful sound.

  7. I just loved how they worked. The mechanics of each machine I took to pieces. I wasn’t much into what they were for back then, just the connections, linkages and the smallness, the compact way they did what they did. Now I write in a notebook first, then onto a laptop, then print and edit with a pen.

    I’m still an engineer but now on a bigger scale.

    Jim

  8. My dad had an old type writer he used in college. Somehow he managed to keep it long enough for me to play on it as a kid.

    He would to brag about his ability to type 60 words per minute on it. I would slam all the keys down at once just to see it jam.

    I used to pretend I could also type 60 wpm. Really, it was a long track of quickly laid letters just to hear the “Ding!”

  9. A wonderfully nostalgic post. I still have my manual typewriter – an Adler Gabrielle which I first used as a student in 1983. And my IBM Selectric, now sadly unusable.

    Before that I’d worn out two earlier typewriters. I kept the Adler and the Selectric. Nostalgia? Sure. But they’re also reminders – as hinted in this blog and some of the comments – that writing is framed by device. It’s too easy to become a word processor fiend, splurging it all out without effort. Typing it out, manually, is one way of making yourself THINK about what’s being written. That “ding” – bang as you knock the platen back to the start – hey, that’s a thinking moment!

    I say ‘reminder’ in my case because neither machine is actually operational, alas. I can’t get Type 1 ribbons any more for the Adler. I’ve had to find other ways of getting that ‘thinking framework’ away from the screen. But those who actually have a working machine – try it. You’ll write differently.

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwright.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

    • I bet you could find ribbons for them somewhere….on the internet?

      I do print out everything I write onto paper and read it carefully before I send it off to editors (not blog posts, but everything else I write for income.) I have to see it on paper.

      Much has been said about the seductiveness of the computer keyboard and screen that make everything look sexy, even when it’s not. The challenge for me now is that I treasure the portability of my laptop and can start writing anywhere. Not likely with a typewriter. I can feel claustrophobic if I am anchored, literally, to my home computer and de facto confined to quarters in order to work.

  10. The “ding!” clearly left a powerful impression on us all! It makes me realize how satisfying it was to hear it — I’m writing! I wonder if some computer software could be programmed (surely!) to fake that sound on a computer keyboard – the way many people have their cellphones ring like a 1960s telephone.

  11. Thanks so much for visiting my ‘Careann’s Musings’ blog yesterday via Freshly Pressed. I love meeting new people here in cyberspace. As a writer I keep my blog’s focus mostly on writing, but obviously I post on other topics, too. I’ve enjoyed having a peek at your blog and was drawn immediately to this post. Oh, how I remember my early typewriters! An Olivetti portable was my first, then a Brother electric and others that eventually replaced them. Remember the wonder of ‘correction tape’… backspacing to the error and retyping over it on special white tape? I kept my last typewriter, initially to use in filling out forms and addressing envelopes, but now with the ability of my computer software and printers I haven’t used it in years. It sits in my office cupboard, along with a box of ribbons and a box of corrector ribbons. They’ll be antiques someday, along with a few other long forgotten and dusty items in that cupboard!

  12. When I was a kid, my dad rescued a museum piece of an Olivetti from the office and brought it home. I was fascinated by the mechanics of the thing (i am in general, quite taken with mechanics).

    I spent many an hour typing rubbish on it just to listen to the sound of the keys smacking the paper, and to watch all movements of the little joints inside that made this happen. A few years later my sister acquired an electronic typewriter, the kind you could review a line on before hitting “print”. It was fascinating for all sorts of different reasons. I have a love hate relationship with the computer. I love it because it makes ordinary old me capable of any creative output at all.

    But for me, nothing beats a pen and a sheet of paper with just the right thickness and friction when it comes to writing. I’ve written letters all my life and I don’t think I’ll ever stop, because I just enjoy writing by hand too much for it.

    • PS, Didn’t complete my sentence about the hate part of the computer (doh) – the addiction of the internet, the way it wrecks my body and sight because of the long hours I sit in front of it, etc

    • I love writing by hand, but do not do very much of it so my handwriting is suffering! Writing checks….and now signing books!

      I do love beautiful stationery and a great fountain pen.

  13. [...] TapTapTapTapTap – Ding! The Return Of Typewriters (broadsideblog.wordpress.com) [...]

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