Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Student reflections on typewriting (I)

Students in my seminar this semester have the option of writing a presentation by typewriter and reflecting on the experience, as one of their "communications exercises." Here is one student's reflection, posted anonymously with her permission.

            When using the typewriter, even just for this brief period of time, I became acutely aware of my writing process and my dependence on modern computers. I first wrote my presentation with my laptop to act as a visual aid as I embarked into unfamiliar territory. The first thing I noticed was how hard it was to write comfortably with the typewriter. Since my laptop has a flat keyboard, my hands tend to be lazy and droop on to the keyboard, as well as the table. But, in this writing position I can write efficiently and quickly.
            The typewriter is a totally different beast. It is impossible to have lazy hands when using this machine because there is no ledge for them to rest.  Because the keys protrude vertically from the base, I found myself having to adjust my posture in order to use the keys properly-- there is no slouching when typewriting! Also, the keys on the typewriter are not unified on a board, as they are in a computer. Since each key is separate from one another, it prohibited me from being able to type quickly because my fingers had to firmly press down, release the key and move to the next key. In contrast, my fingers have the ability to slide fluidly, tapping the necessary keys across my laptop. For these reasons, I was forced to adapt my physical writing style to the new conditions.
            Beyond the physical differences, I found that my thought process was different too. My academic writing style in always in flux: sometimes I write my conclusion first, or maybe I’ll pick out an important quote from the book and analyze it before I begin to write a cohesive paper on that book, and other times I write in a hurry and edit and revise accordingly. Even though I already wrote the paper, I found myself making corrections and shifting around sentences as I transfered my thoughts to the typewriter. I think this happened because I would read a couple sentences out loud to become familiar with the words so I would not have to keep checking my paper for the next word. By reading aloud, I was able to recognize awkward sentences or thoughts that required more explanation. The typewriter evoked a sense of permanency, there is no “delete” key so I was very cautious that each word was in best order possible.
            Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the typewriter because it made me more aware of how I write, also, it made me appreciate what it must have been like for my parents to use it on a regular basis. Another thing that I enjoyed about the typewriter was how it was possible to see the keys moving and striking the paper leaving an imprint. It reminded of when a grand piano has its top open and you can observe the way different keys make the various sounds. Because I could witness the way the machine placed my words on the paper, I felt more connected to the typewriter than my computer-- I have not felt that connection with technology before. However, when I played the saxophone many years ago I had a similar experience, and using the typewriter was refreshing because I felt like that again. The typewriter, like the saxophone, felt more like an extension of myself, like a tool that could express my thoughts in a different way than just speech. Even though I missed my laptop because it took me a while to type my paper, I am glad that I was able to experience an old technology that was new to me.


  1. nifty! I find my computer keyboarding is more likely to be sloppy and frustrating. The typewriter gives me that "oh, well - it's in now" freedom to keep plowing ahead.

  2. Couldn't have said it better. The thing I like most about typewriting is that you have to be more aware of your thought processes before putting your thoughts to paper, precisely because of the permanency of the (type)written word. Maybe we all should have an "appreciation day" where we used typewriters instead of computers; it might be interesting to see the results.

  3. "Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the typewriter because it made me more aware of how I write..."

    Grade: A

  4. Said very well. That is one nice essay. I read it earlier at work, but could not comment. I agree with shordzi. It'd be nice to see what the others write of their experience.

  5. Great! I never thought of the design differencies between the computer keyboard and the typewriter, but now I think I even prefer the typewriter.

  6. Did the student type the above text on a typewriter? Just curious.

    1. No, she wrote it on a computer, looking back on her typewriter experience. But stay tuned for a typewritten reflection.

  7. I remember my first foray into typewriting and there were some physical hurdles to overcome, fingers travel farther, more pressure, bunching typebars. This was a very enjoyable read and took me back to some of my experience.