Typewriters and perspective

6 Mar

No USB port with this model, but the printer is included.

No USB port with this model, but the printer is included.

As I sit here by my Dell power desktop, I can see a 1925 Woodstock manual typewriter across the room.

No, it’s not an emergency backup.

The ribbon is long since lost its ability to speak. Strike a key with the force to lift a letter hammer and you usually get a second or third key connecting in a tangle near the strike area. The Woodstock is a compact 35 pounds with a black-lacquered carriage base surrounding the round, glass-covered keys.

I also have a Western Electric telephone, its rotary dial black base cord-connected to the classic handset. It is not serviceable.

Less than 25 years ago, old newspaper buildings housed linotypes and furiously loud presses that shook the structures on their foundations. The din has been reduced — considerably.

These relics of the past are still present — warehoused, roped off in museums, or collecting dust and propping up hard cover books on a shelf. But their world and the clamor that they produced in full range of motion is now muted and gone.

They’re bookends — between our first technological awareness and the next major leap — and they’re here to keep us honest.

When does a piece of equipment lose its practical ability and become a mere object? What is that curious space between analog and digital, between horse-drawn cart and aircraft?

Every generation will struggle with its journey through the overlap. Some people will cling to the objects, some will toss them, some people will use them as a reminder to measure the distance that we’ve traveled.

You’ve been in an older person’s home where some of these objects are still functional — a testament to an objects’ design, durability and stubbornness.

Every shiny new thing that compresses and houses the latest technology also decays out of the box. How marvelously swift new cassettes and VCRs felt as they instantly began their decline and fall in your hands.

What do you call that moving point where one believes they exist at the pinnacle of advanced technology?







3 Responses to “Typewriters and perspective”

  1. Julie March 6, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    My parents had an old Royal typewriter that I actually spotted at the Smithsonian! And, my daughter thinks it’s very amusing that I had a professor in college who would not accept papers that were done on computers (ca. 1981). It was typewriters, or nothing…he felt computers were an invitation to plagarism!

  2. klcesarz March 7, 2009 at 1:45 am #

    I learned to type on a Royal 20 some years ago and used an IBM Selectric at The Detroit News. This perspective keeps me grounded.


  1. Let it bleed, so we can learn « i scream social - March 28, 2009

    […] Don’t drive a stake through old ideas and systems, or humiliate and disparage them. Move them on to a hospice setting and honor and revel in their once mighty hold on our consciousness. […]

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