Monday, December 6, 2021

A quieter typewriter dream

Here's an AI-generated video that's less wild and crazy than yesterday's. This time I began with Greg Fudacz's photo of a Chicago no. 3 that's now in my collection, and added the prompt "antique typewriters."

The results feel very much like dreams I've had in which I've discovered a cache of previously unknown machines in a corner of an antique shop.

 Video created by NightCafe. (Make some of your own and share them with us!)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Video of a typewriter dream

A few days ago, I published some AI-generated images of bizarre typewriters.

Now NightCafe has just rolled out a new service that allows you to create AI videos. All you need to do is enter some text, and the computers take it from there. (This does cost a bit of money and take some time, since as you can imagine, it takes a huge amount of processing power.)

Here's what came out when I tried "Boris Vallejo typewriter hero." (Vallejo is a painter known for his fantasy scenes of muscular barbarians and dragons.) Play this in full-screen mode (click icon in lower right) for the full effect. Don't play this at all if you're easily freaked out (I'm looking at you, Abby.)

Higher-resolution but faster version here, for those who like freaking out.

I find this fascinating and disturbing. It's as if we've tapped into the associative processes that generate our dreams—but now, we can watch and replay the dream while we're fully conscious. 

Where will this take us? It won't be long before computers can generate feature-length, high-resolution films. Then we'll immerse ourselves in 3D, interactive, AI-generated environments as we explore the "metaverse." Will it be thrilling or nauseating? Safer and more fun than LSD? The last nail in the coffin of our sense of reality?

Whatever is coming, I am experiencing some future shock right now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Revolution in the mailbox: Typewriting letters in India

I received an inspiring message from Mayank A. in India, which I am reproducing in part with his permission:

I finished reading your book 'The Typewriter Revolution' last week. An excellent well-rounded book on the subject, and it was a very engrossing and satisfying read for me. Earlier this year, I had found the book 'With Great Truth & Regard: The Story of the Typewriter in India', which is a beautiful compilation from the archives of Godrej, the last company in this part of the world to manufacture typewriters till 2009. Both books are a valuable addition to my personal collection.

My wife needs to be with her parents in another part of India for these few months. As this is going to be a relatively extended time away from home, I thought of writing letters to her regularly on a typewriter. It certainly was such a joy for both of us to write and read them. Not relying on the postal system here, I used to scan the typed pages and send them across through email or instant messaging.

Getting more adventurous, one such letter I typed on an inland letter card and actually put it through the regular mail. I found the experience of typing within the limited confines of an odd sized paper really exciting. Needless to say, the letter did get delivered at the recipient address, but only after a delay of almost 40 days! 

Our India Post still prints these pre-stamped inland letters as part of postal stationery. It's supposed to be the cheapest mode for private transmission of the printed word anywhere in the country. Yet, it sees no takers for personal communication today thanks to the ubiquitous smartphones. The only inland letters we receive are from the investment and insurance companies reminding about an upcoming payment. For anything more important or urgent --- personal as well as professional --- needs to be sent through a postal booking service or private couriers. Whether it was technology or the system's own lethargy that killed the medium is debatable.

Apart from these leisurely personal writings, I am now also actively using the typewriters for typing formal letters to banks and other agencies. As a result, I hardly see any use for my desktop printer these days.

I am very grateful to Mayank for sharing this inland letter card, which is much like the late, lamented aerogrammes that I used for international correspondence in a bygone world. 

The quotation from Peggy Mohan is moving. I am reminded of Heidegger's saying that "language is the house of being"; when a language dies, so does an understanding of what it means to be. That's why I support The Language Conservancy. And one could make a good case for conserving not only languages, but linguistic media—such as inland letter cards and typewriters.