Am I evil for finding this story about the death of the typewriter a bit–or a lot–treacly and predictable? https://medium.com/backchannel/the-last-of-the-typewriter-men-729f150c5083
The photos were handsome, the writing was detailed, the headline was dramatic … even if it did introduce a curious turn of phrase, “to go obsolete,” rather than “become obsolete” …
The headline was the first warning sign, followed by the Bulwer Lytton-esque “Behind his spectacles was a furrowed brow …” It was a tender portrait, and so heart-felt, I guess, but … so … easy.
There was no mention of the unexpected popularity of Tom Hanks’s typewriter app, or any look at the number of typewriter repair people anywhere else in the country (ah, Manhattan, where the world begins and ends). Or any fun image that comes to mind when you think of typewriters, viz., Jack Nicholson in The Shining:
I shall now do a deep dive, as business-types like to intone, into the data of fogey-ness by recalling my college days (cue eye-rolling and smartphone-checking) … The sound of multiple typewriters, clacking away on a cold evening when the dorms’ enthusiastic radiators had turned a wintry night into steamy summer, or walking home and hearing a lone scholar–let’s call him or her that, instead of a last-minute slacker–pecking away as the hours crept ever closer to the time the paper was due …
I guess I would have liked a little research from this essay, a little curiosity, a little fun, and less predictable sentiment. It read–Fogey Alert!–like it was written by someone who’d never used a typewriter, or depended on one.
Still, it sent me to a cluttered closet to extract two typewriters I still hang on to, just in case the internet ends and I need a fail-safe. Both are Olivetti machines: my father’s from his university days, and the one he gave me for mine.
My father’s (left) crossed the Atlantic multiple times, in elegant fashion. Mine (right) ground to and from Poughkeepsie, in considerably less tony conveyance. I remembered the sounds and smells of both of them, and their handles and weight felt instantly familiar. I admired the simplicity of their transit needs–no chargers, no software updates, no power supply, no wi-fi. Unzip case, machine on surface, paper behind roller, have at it.
I don’t feel wistful about these old friends, but I do love what they made possible. Published scholarship for my father, and earnest but ropey college papers for me. I don’t mourn their passing because they’re still here and they still work. I put them back on the shelf and wondered if there’d ever come a day when the power would out and everyone would be fuming without their electronics and I would be peacefully pecking away in a corner.
I feel for the writer of the essay I found so unimaginative, for perhaps he never had the experience of relying on these beautifully engineered, efficient machines that will never, at least in my small mind, “go obsolete.” He must have never sat in a classroom full of pimpled students pounding out “Brad’s dad had half a shad salad” or sweated through a timed typing test before you could hope for an office job.
Writing is still as difficult and clumsy as it’s ever been, and my tardy blog entries are testimony to that. But I do not mourn the decline of the typewriter industry. Oh dear–I’m hard-hearted. But I do thank the author, however, for this inspiration and for bringing to mind one of my favorite images for motivation:
P.G. Wodehouse at work: “I just sit at the typewriter and curse a bit.”