Suspend Your Disbelief

Shop Talk |

Is the typewriter dead, or just… retiring?


My sister’s favorite joke in college was this:

Two penguins are in the bathtub, and one of them says, “Could you please pass the soap?” The other replies, “What do I look like, a typewriter?”

Get it? Neither do I (even with Wikipedia’s help)–though it does make me laugh now, because it made her laugh so hard.

Anyway, typewriters are, as they say, having a moment. When Anthropologie offers a USB typewriter that works with your iPad, you know something is afoot. But even more fascinating than the reemergence of physical typewriters themselves is the coverage typewriters–and the art of typing–is receiving.

Wired, for instance, examined the shops of the few remaining typewriter repairmen and found some surprising trends in who’s using the machines:

California Typewriter Company works on both vintage and modern office equipment, but surprisingly, over the last 10 years, the sale and repair of manual typewriters has constituted an increasing share of their business. Most of the people buying the older machines are under 35, the company reports, and are mostly people looking for an interesting gift or a decorative conversation piece.

In addition, girls under 12 have become a significant market, following the example of the titular character of the recent movie Kit Kittredge: American Girl, who frequently uses a typewriter. California Typewriter Company also worked on machines for celebrity clients including Danielle Steele and Tom Hanks, and sold a replacement ribbon to Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

And inspired by that very article, filmmakers Christopher Lockett and Gary Nicholson have begun a documentary, “The Typewriter (In the 21st Century),” attempting to fund it on Kickstarter. Here’s their trailer:

Don’t want to wait? Actor/comedian/human-sound-effect-machine Michael Winslow gives an audio history of the typewriter in this 21-minute film by Ignacio Uriarte:

According to Uriarte, in each take, Winslow is “reciting” the sound of the words “The history of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow” as typed on each machine. In a review of the film, Frieze Magazine observes, “As if a perverse variation of stories passed down through generations by memory and oral tradition, his high-definition footage preserves an obsolete analogue sonic universe.”

But is the typewriter really obsolete? All the attention it’s gotten above says maybe not.

Further reading:

  • Here’s yet another USB typewriter (for those who want the click-clack of typing, but the convenience of digital files).
  • And here’s a nifty-sounding, free word-processing program, Keep Writing, that acts like a typewriter: it doesn’t let you delete. You can XXX over previous text if you must, but the point is–as the program’s creator puts it–to “let you focus on productivity (instead of endless polishing) and on reaching your word count goals.”

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