Thursday, 31 March 2011

The digital generation rediscovers the magic of manual typewriters

source - MRS

The digital generation rediscovers the magic of manual typewriters

From across the Pond comes the first mainstream media coverage of an idea that is slowly gaining popularity across the United States and continental Europe since its introduction by several typewriter collectors - the type-in.  With any luck it may gain a foothold here in Britain too and I for one would certainly be up for it - it sounds like a wizard wheeze!  Sort of like an Internet cafe, only with typewriters.  What's not to like?!

The attraction is not just limited to vintage aficionados such as ourselves, either.  Judging by this particular article the so-called "digital generation" are practically lapping it up as well.  The typewriter shall not go quietly into the night, indeed!  It is more than encouraging to see the popularity of these meetings with young people who are more used to their laptops, mobile telephones and Blackcurrants (or whatever they're called) but who are obviously keen to explore the simple, tactile nature of the manual typewriter and the involvement it demands.  That alone provides a good deal of hope not only for the preservation of typing machines but also the actual enjoyment of using them.

My shamefully poor-condition 1955 production Imperial 66.   I keep promising myself I'll get it reconditioned.  Maybe someday as a birthday or Christmas present to myself.  Although even then I won't be carting it along to any type-ins (unless I've got an actual cart!) because it weighs a ton!

Of course the reaction of some young people, such as the first girl mentioned in the article, is amusing yet also befuddling.  I can still remember the time, a few years ago, when two of my nieces (then aged about 7 and 9) first laid eyes on my typewriter.  Their first question was "What does that do?" and for a moment it left me stuck as I suddenly realised I was being asked to explain something, which was so familiar to me, to two people who had never seen one before.  In the end I struggled to come up with some simplistic explanation along the lines of "it's like a computer, but the words are printed straight on to the paper".  Then, of course, they immediately wanted to try it for themselves!

It incidents like that, and occasions such as these type-ins, which prove that there is still an active interest - and what's more, a growing interest - in the good old manual typewriter and that therefore its future is assured.


  1. It is even more depressing when they don't know what a cassette tape is.

  2. Ooooh, memories...
    I'm ancient! I even remember tape recorders (the one with the big round tapes), monochrome computer screens, the magic of the first Mackintosh (a pet!), learned WP 5.1 (and nope, it ain't WordPress), heavens, I even worked on a telex machine. I used to call from phone boxes!
    I did a type writing exam. I am a dinosaur

    If you haven't yet, you should check out this:

  3. I love the romance of the typewriter...the bohemian symbolism it had for me as a wanna-be writer and english student. I took typing as a 3 credit course in highschool and we used typewriters that were from the same era as yours. I composed my English lit papers on an electric typewriter well into my third year of uni. What I discovered from that: I will always love the sound, the feel, the weight, the style of typewriters, but I do NOT miss all the fiddley elements involved in operating one (all the calculations involved in ensuring proper alignment when typing a letter or centring something. All the pain involved in fixing typos, etc). Sighs.

  4. PD - Oh, don't tell me! ;-)

    Superheidi - thanks for the link, I shall enjoy exploring that site. And I still use 'phone boxes!

    Baroness - there certainly is an inherent romanticism in the typewriter. I used an electric typewriter at school sometimes and did a typing course at college too, but it was called "word processing" by then and we only used computers :-( . I should have pushed for a few typewriters, I think that article mentions their popularity with students.
    What always amazes me is that women of my mother's generation actually learned to touch-type on machines like mine! I only use my typewriter for small things like little notes and envelopes at the moment, so I don't encounter much fiddlings, but I can imagine the complexity involved in it!

  5. I think I had a toy typewriter as a kid, but by the time I was about 6 we had BBC computers with floppy (yup, they actually flopped) disks in school and that was that. I've realised I'm far too reliant on the spell checker and the undo button to get any real use from a typewriter, though I'd love to use one to write letters.

    On the touch-typing note, my Grandfather got a computer at 84. While the mouse took him ages to get to grips with, he was able to out-type me for both speed and accuracy, decades after doing any typing at all. I guess the hard work learning in the first place paid off!

  6. Well, that pretty much completes the loop for me. I am idling in my office, waiting for the New York Times to be delivered (we receive it a day behind), and I popped in to peek at your blog and your vintage links.

    I can highly recommend typecast blogging, particularly becasue it lends an additional level of vintage authenticity. On the other hand, it requires access to a scanner. We typecasters must be somewhat up-to-date in order to be retro.

    The "loop" I refer to is that I originally found my way here from a vintage-something site, and saw your link to "Fresh Ribbon", the author of which is four hours away from myself. No matter how retro-vintage we may want to be, the internet is making the world virtually smaller.

  7. Phone boxes are an endangered species around here. They are vanishing!

    touch typing? That's what I learned! Still saves me lot of time. We also did finger excersices as it was quite hard to build up strenghth in the two smallest fingers (and stretch them across the large keyboard). That's why I probably love to rattle hard on computer keyboards, trained fingers.

  8. Lauren - when I was about 8 or 9 we had one BBC computer to serve the entire school! I can still remember the green screen and, yes, proper floppy disks. ;-) Re: your granddad - it's amazing how easily that generation can recall what they learned. During the war my granddad was a telegraphist in the Navy and so he had to know Morse Code backwards. He knew it just as well to his dying day 50 years later.

    MTCoalhopper - you make a good point about the impact of the Internet and its apparent disparity with the retro-vintage ethic. I touched on it in a post last year ( but there may well be a more in-depth post to be made out of it. It's certainly given me something to think about and I'm sure this won't be the last "loop" we pass each other on ;-).
    If I ever get my old Imperial done up I'll definitely start using it more, maybe even do the odd typecast - they're very good, as you say, and luckily I do have a scanner! I follow quite a few typecast blogs - certainly the ones mentioned in the article - although Fresh Ribbon seems to have gone rather quiet of late...?

    Superheidi - phone boxes are getting rarer here too (so much so, in fact, that I probably know off the top of my head the locations of every one in a 3 mile radius! ;-P
    The word processing course I did was basically touch typing but on computers and now that you mention it I do recall some finger exercises being thrown into the mix as well. I've unfortunately lost some of the skills I picked up on the course, but I think I could get them back again if I had to.

  9. Monda (of Fresh Ribbon fame) has gone to ground lately in the blogging department, which is sad, since she had such a strong writing voice. I hope she comes back to us. But as MT pointed out, we're still pecking away strong.


    You have a typewriter
    You have a scanner
    You have the moxie

    And yet no typecasts? We would love to absorb someone new into the Typosphere collective, er, I mean, "welcome another typecaster"... hint, hint, hint.


Don't just sit there, type something! I enjoy reading all comments.


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