“On my computer, I’m nervous; I talk too much, I weaken my language by overqualifying and hedging in my logic from every possible angle. I try to write very safely, which means I mostly write very badly. But when I’m short on room and my words can’t be deleted, I’m much bolder. There’s something really empowering about seeing your words physically stamped into paper. There’s strength in the motion.”
– Marian Call in The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century
Typewriters are no longer just for sentimentalists. Richard Polt—who interviewed 50 artists, writers, inventors, steampunks, activists, poets, and musicians for his book The Typewriter Revolution—can name 10 non-hipster reasons to use a typewriter instead of a laptop.
Why use a typewriter?
- Deliverance from email. With a typewriter, you can finally focus on the words in front of you, instead of the newsletters and constant stream of correspondence ping-ing at you from the digital ethers.
- When’s the last time you received a letter in the mail from an old friend? Be that friend to someone, and your typewritten correspondence will no doubt leave an indelible mark on them in a way that a Facebook chat or iMessage never could.
- Freedom from the backspace. Sure, some typewriters come with correctional tape, but the limitations of the machine are actually freeing—some users report entering a creative flow state that only a typewriter brings. No wonder writers like Jonathan Franzen and Maya Angelou are such typewriter devotees.
- Digital liberation. No one’s monitoring or archiving the messages you write on a typewriter, which is something that increasingly can’t be said for our computers, smartphones, and tablet devices. The Guardian documents how the typewriter is in itself a stand for privacy in the surveillance age.
As Ron Charles puts it in The Washington Post review of the book, “When the sun finally sends out an electromagnetic surge that fries every e-mail message on Earth, we’ll wish we’d written our love letters on a Smith-Corona.”
Beyond The Guardian and The Washington Post, the typewriter resurgence has been documented by everyone from WFPL, who compared it to the rebirth of the Polaroid, to The New York Times, which names several acclaimed writers whom you might not know penned their famous works on typewriters.
What are some typewriter myths?
- The typewriter revolution is an anti-digital movement. In the sixth chapter of The Typewriter Revolution, “Enter the Typosphere,” Polt lays out the deep culture of creative collaboration between the analog and digital realms, and how typewriters can actually be a way of blogging online, with the help of gadgets like the USB typewriter.
To see this fusion of typewriter and digital space in action, check out Richard’s Typewriter Revolution blog, in which he typewrites then scans in each post (yes, really).
- There is just one type of typewriter. Typewriters are a diverse lot and have evolved drastically through the ages, as illustrated by this photo gallery from TIME. Cincinnati Magazine also has a lovely gallery of machines, from the 1950s-era Royal Eldorado to the lime green Remington Noiseless Portable.
The bottom line is, a typewriter is not a bad computer, just as a book is not a bad website.
Here’s a Q&A with Polt himself speaking on the source of his fascination with the typewriter, as well as tips on how to find your own. If that’s not enough, check out his page, The Classic Typewriter, which contains info on repairs, shops, guides, and types of typewriters, as well as facts, history, and links to other parts of the typosphere.
P.S. If you’re based in Los Angeles, you can even participate in a type-in with Richard at the lovely and historic Last Bookstore downtown. See below for more info: