The little bell that struck when you reached the end of a line… The sssseeeeech of the carriage being rolled back after a line… The kreek-kreek-kreek of the roller being rotated to adjust the alignment of paper… The ink-stains on the fingers while replacing the ribbons…
The clickety-clack of typewriters is long gone from our newsrooms. As indeed are the monsters who evoked awe with their sheer typing speed. And the composers whose typewriters sounded as if they were composing songs on their machines, not paragraphs of prose.
But to a generation brought up on the typewriter and its close cousin, the teleprinter, the sight, noise and magic of striking type on paper—furiously if the head was bobbing with ideas, slowly if the boss was hovering around—is a memory that no new technology can erase.
In The Iron Whim: The Fragmented History of the Typewriter, Darren Wershler-Henry, a professor of communication studies in Ontario, says the typewriter has been invented at least 52 times. Mark Twain was the first major writer to deliver a typewritten manuscript.
Reviewing the book in The New Yorker, Joan Acocella writes:
Something else to think about is the effect that the computer, with its astonishing capabilities, has had on us as writers. Take just one example: the ease of moving a block of text. Highlight, hit control X, move cursor, hit control V, and, presto, that paragraph is in a new place. Of course, we were able to move things in typewritten text, too, but all that business with the scissors and the tape made us think twice, and maybe it was wise for us to hesitate before changing the order in which our brains produced our thoughts. In recent years, I have read a lot of writings that seemed to say, “This paragraph is here because it seemed an O.K. place to shove it in.”
The advent of PCs has made journalism easier, but has it made better? Do we write too much, too carelessly, without too much thought? Did the typewriter slow us, slow our thoughts, allow us to compose our thoughts with care? Did we write much better before tech happened, or is it all nostalgia?
Read the full review here: The typing life