The Typewriter Renaissance—What’s Old is Cool Again.

“What’s that, dad?” a friend’s 12 year-old son asked upon seeing an odd looking mechanical contraption being used in a display at a local bookstore. “That’s a typewriter, son. It’s like an old-fashioned Macbook Pro.”

Once was a time when we had film developed, read books in hardcover, spun music CDs (and before them vinyl, 8-track and cassette), dialed a phone and typed on paper.

It has been a couple decades since the digitization of photographs, books, music and text has changed the way we communicate, view, hear, and read. And in that time, a generation has been coming of age native to this evolution and naïve to the devices we once used.

And, at the same time, this same generation that is embracing the old-fashioned way of doing things. From vinyl records to Polaroid cameras, what’s old—and analog, is become new again.

We’re even coming back to manual typewriters as a more permanent, purposeful and physical way of writing letters, reports, and stories. You could say that typewriter revivalists are sort of flaunting a post-digital style. 

Admittedly, the typewriter renaissance is currently embedded in a niche community of Brooklyn, Portland and San Francisco-based 20-something and 30-some-odd hipsters, and those who embrace a bespoke, handmade lifestyle with a derision of consumerism; but it is these same communities which lead fashionable change and ignite trends that spread across the country and the world.

And, we are indeed fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, and celebrating them for their design, and functional.

Think about the value of a typewriter. It makes you think about what you are doing and the words you are forming, You must have some conviction in your thoughts when using a typewriter. There’s no spell check, no rewrites once you’ve pressed those keys against that carbon ribbon—making a permanent imprint on paper. Some have described typewriters like a musical instrument—the physicality and the sound so wonderfully unique and purposeful. Others describe the action of typing as sensuous—pressing fingers to keys that create motion and sound.  They love the tactile feedback, the sound, and the feel of the keys underneath their fingers. 

Another virtue that we are rediscovering is simplicity. Typewriters are good at only one thing: putting words on paper, and typists must concentrate only one thing--typing. It is simply darn hard to multitask while typing. Many people find it relaxing to focus on the simplicity of thinking, purposefully, at pressing letters to paper.

There’s even a new film about typewriters. Populaire is a French period piece focused on a speed typing competition in 1950’s Paris (think Doris Day meets Mad Men) that has garnered a lot of attention.

And what about bringing typewriters to coffee houses instead of laptops or iPads? In some particularly 20-something dominated neighborhoods, you might see an old Smith Corona sitting next to a venti soy latte. But word of warning, key banging may be novel in most Starbucks, but it does disturb the peace unlike gesturing with your iPad.

The safer public use is at events called “type-ins.” Typewriter revivalists are gathering in bars and bookstores to bond with other tribe members, and to geek out—in an analog type of way. They tap out love letters, poems and memos, competing to see who can bang away the fastest. It’s kind of a way to unplug, and connect with others. 

Yes, we live in an age where old technology rests comfortably beside the new, and where progress and discovery can come from looking back, as well as looking forward. And where the typewriter renaissance may be upon us.

 

Manual typewriter image courtesy of Shutterstock 

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