Have you noticed lately that typewriters are now cool? They’re vintage hip with retro-sexiness all over them…

Last year I bought my husband a pair of cufflinks made from the keys of an old typewriter. I liked how they looked, the uniqueness of the gift (side-note: I’m terrible at buying gifts) and the romance of them – everything they represented.

There is something romantic about typewriters. They are slow (if you type anything like me), hold secrets, don’t need Wi-Fi, and are windows from another world. I don’t really remember typewriting classes at school the QWERTY keyboard was a complete mystery.

I do however remember the electric typewriter at the State Library. When I left school I held lofty ideas of becoming a journalist. I would travel by bus into the City. I was neatly dressed and determined to succeed. Hours were spent in the library on this annoying machine. To be honest, the machine was efficient but my typing was not. I became adept at using Tippex and would send letter after letter to Perth based editors. Now the letters probably didn’t do my career much good, but I used to follow up with phone calls and doorstep meetings. To be frank, I pretty much stalked all the editors in Perth until finally one of them gave up and offered me a job on a local weekly.

At the Paper there were word processors with black backgrounds and orange text. Computers weren’t overly helpful though and our whole staff would go up to Head Office every Friday and physically hang the paper. Then we would amble out into Chinatown and eat chicken’s feet and other such delicacies. I can tell you it was a real education for an eighteen-year-old girl from a convent school. Not least the swear words the subbies taught me.

The following year at university I took a class in what I can only describe as binary gobbledygook. I have no idea what it was – it was like typing class – a complete mystery. The university kindly provided computer labs where we would type assignments. Oh my word, the excitement when perforated paper came into being. No longer did we carefully tear our assignments off a big paper roll.

Anyways, I’m digressing here. Have you noticed lately that typewriters are now cool? They’re vintage hip with retro sexiness all over them. I even have one on my author page to help convey the impression I’m a serious writer!

Literary greats like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Iris Murdoch, CS Lewis and Rudyard Kipling all typed their manuscripts on Underwood Portables or Remington Noiseless or the Royal Signet. I know this how? Dr Richard Polt has a list of great writers and their typewriters at http://site.xavier.edu/polt/typewriters.

Dr Polt is a Professor of Philosophy at Xavier University in Cincinnati and he loves typewriters. Actually, he’s quite the typewriter expert and in 2004 reviewed documentation which supported the allegation that President Bush draft dodged in the 1970s. Dr Polt concluded the evidence was fraudulent as it had been produced on a word processor not a typewriter as claimed.

When he was 12, Dr Polt’s dad bought him a 1930s Remington Noiseless Portable at a garage sale. Then in 1994 he became seriously addicted after reading Paul Lippman’s book American Typewriters: A Collector’s Encyclopedia. His collection today includes typewriters from 1870s to 2010s.

Dr Polt’s book The Typewriter Revolution essentially documents the revival of interest in typewriters and provides helpful advice for people who fancy using such machines in our modern era.

So what’s the attraction? Dr Polt says it’s to resist the paradigm and escape the data stream. It’s part of the slow movement (I always think of home-cooked casseroles here). Typewriters are better at keeping secrets than computers. We need distance from our devices and we need to gain some perspective about our use of technology.

Why write on a typewriter when you can write on a computer?

Why take a country road when you can take the Interstate?

Why ride a bike when you can drive a car?

Why shop at the corner store when you can shop at Wal-Mart?

Why cook from scratch when you can eat fast food?

Why draw a picture of something when you can point your smart phone at it?

Dr Polt says efficiency shouldn’t always be the most important consideration. He says typewriters are durable, personal, private, single-purpose, independent and secure and that we should give them a go.

It’s a different world from the first typewriter built in 1808. In today’s world, we have efficiency in buckets. As one of my friend’s mother said we don’t even wash our salad anymore it comes straight from a bag. I could go on and on about the efficiencies in our lives but I won’t. Let’s just think about Dr Richard Polt and his vast collection of typewriters and take stock of what it means to get some distance from our smart phones.

Richard Polt

Dr Richard Polt with his first typewriter – a 1930s Remington Noiseless Portable. (Photo courtesy of Dr Polt)

For more information about The Typewriter Revolution check out http://typewriterrevolution.com.

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