Thursday, May 24, 2018

Is the typewriter still innovative in the year 2018?

Thanks to readers for sending me their clever and interesting responses to the contest question. Here they are, in the order I received them.


#1:



Larry Pressnell

#2:

Is the Typewriter Still Innovative in the Year 2018?

No, it is not. "Innovative" means offering something new to the culture, and the typewriter has long since, decades ago, ceased offering new ways of doing things. Many of the things that typewriters offered first are still in use, but even that phrase, "still in use" says that it's not new. Now, two points have yet to be made: first, that there is nothing sacred or magical about "New" (as distinct from "innovative") and a great many things created long ago have not been done better since. Innovative is useful—simply new is not necessarily useful. But the innovative is time-limited and after the innovation becomes common it is no longer innovative. Like typewriters. And the second thing is that the /experience/ of typewriting can be an innovation, an eye-opening experience, to people coming fresh to it, but that is due to their own circumstances and not to the typewriter beinginnovative. So, among the many charms and utility of typewriters, a new way of doing things is not one of them. It might be claimed that the use of a typewriter is an innovative way of avoiding the pitfalls of the digital world but the same might be said of quill pens and vinyl records and cash money and no one is claiming innovation for those technologies. It is the effort and the experiences that are new to us now. And perhaps an awareness.


Michael Höhne



#3:

Yes, the typewriter is still very much innovative in 2018.  I have a traveling bookstore that goes all over the US setting up at farmers markets, music festivals, county fairs, by breweries, cafes and even a Portland typewriter repair shop. When the bookstore sets up, there is always a manual typewriter there to be used by anyone who wants to give it a try.  It gets a lot of use and usually the individuals who are drawn to use it are those who have never tried a typewriter before.  After a bit of trial and error, they are completely captivated by it.  A number of people have told me about buying their own typewriter after trying the one at the bookstore.  Does this make the typewriter innovative?  Definitely because people are using it to express ideas, create art, leave messages and tell stories using a medium that for them is new and unknown.  It is transporting individuals into something new through old (unknown) technology.  


Rita Collins




#4:




#5:

innovative |ˈinəˌvādiv|
adjective
(of a product, idea, etc.) featuring new methods; advanced and original.

By this definition, the typewriter fails in all the above definitions, for it is no longer ‘original’, nor ‘new’, nor ‘advanced’. However, if an item or object is able to re-inspire we sapiens to create or explore original avenues of thought and feelings through the written word, then surely it deserves to be designated with the adjective ‘innovative’. Renaissance artists of the 14th century were certainly considered ‘innovative’, yet by the admittance of its own nomenclature, they were simply applying and rendering a re-birth to ideas that came before them but had been lost or forgotten. In the same way, writers, poets, collectors and tinkerers today are re-discovering and appreciating how ‘innovative’ the typewriter can be as a writing and teaching tool, or simply as retro mechanical wonders. Moreover, global events in the last few years have revealed the risks and dangers inherent in the digital world, so a contraption that can produce an alternative form of communication in the year 2018 that is safer (in terms of privacy) and exists in a tactile two-dimensional form and not in some phantom unreality can indeed be described as ‘innovative’. (Just sayin’.)

Ping Amranand


#6:



Jake Knaus

#7:

The typewriter enables me to avoid distractions and focus. It forces me to delay editing until the first draft of an idea is safely out of my head and on a page. It forces me to plan my sentences more carefully, and (with the help of a dictionary) it has made me a better speller, something Spell Check has never done.  My manual typewriter even exercises my arthritic fingers. All this is true. However, for me, the typewriter remains innovative in 2018, because it posses the singular power of making me want to write. It is a physical thing outside of myself that invites me to transform thought into action, and action into shared ideas, the seeds of which sometimes produce still more dramatic action. Never overlook the explosive power of the typewriter: With it, one strikes the page blow, by blow, by blow until the mind gives one rest before the words produced on it go on to comfort, entertain or stir another. The typewriter does what it was designed to do.  Do I?

Anonymous


#8:

      I believe that typewriters are still in innovative. Those machines are useful works of art. All have different feels to them and different back stories. Something that can, has, and always will out last the modern day laptops. A machine that may or may not use power, though it's like a "go anywhere" word document that prints as you type. A past of old technology that wr still use every day. Ever look at the entire screen on a word document? It has a hand full of properties that ear adopted from the typewriter

Dustin Wagner


#9:



Laura Hietala

#10:



Klaus Mielke


#11:

The groundbreaking communication device of 2018: The Typewriter

A casual perusal of the simplest of online histories of typewriter development (Wikipedia) will quickly inform the reader of centuries of previous musings on a future possibility of creating what one writer has dubbed "The Iron Whim"; the apparently persistent Typewriter-Shaped Hole in the heart of Humankind, dreamed of for centuries before the creation of the first viable example.

If Innovation had somehow remained silent on the subject of the typewriter for roughly another 150 years beyond its actual emergence on our timeline--if the March of Technology and Progress in the Industrial Revolution had somehow quietly elided the first iteration of this remarkable personal printing machine; If the archetypal manual typewriter that this century has largely come to regard as a quaint Touchstone Of The Past had not actually become available until 2018-

(which is this writer's-Now-, where you and I are mutual spectants of the dizzying technological acceleration of this century)

-it might well be the sine qua non of this year's largest paradigm-breaking startup.

Consider its utility, its novelty, combined with the jaw-dropping versatility of its design.  I submit to you, Dear Reader, that it would be the topic of tech pundits, and their exaltations in the cybersphere, for the rest of the decade.

Imagine if the world had never seen this: A new invention combining the legibility of the printing press with the near-infinite personalizations of individual human thought; an inexhaustible scribe with symbols more regular and recognizable than cursive and surpassing the speed of longhand. A teaching tool, Orthodontia for the Restless Mind, focusing the intent of its Companion Creator; the typewriter's very nature a diodic urgency to the writer to always press forward in the creative process; a pursuit of more text, shunning the fickle human mind's tendency towards looking backward, discouraging immediate redaction and self-recrimination, discouraging the sinful fruitless gaze of the aspirant writer toward his or her personal Sodom and Gomorrah of 'What-Ifs' at their roads not traveled, the myriad paths each writer must leave behind of necessity, and with it the attractive and unprofitable dithering over trivial choices, and onanism of finding fault within first drafts, and picking invisible weeds out of what will be an increasingly unproductive garden allotment. One must instead leave editing till later, and blaze the brave trail forward into fresh uncharted territories.

The manual machine is also au courant in its "Eco-Friendly" aesthetic; its stylish independence from batteries or power cord, having a very narrow waste stream, with no power-hogging luminescent screens petitioning for answers to emails or software updates, hard drives clunking, muffin fans whirring to distract its driver from focusing on the next thought. There are few knot-holes in early twentieth century typewriter design wherein to lodge the viper of Planned Obsolescence which has trapped many of our personal devices in its snare. There is no fealty to pay to corporations in the form of personal information leakages, software licenses, or drivers and antivirus to maintain.

Indeed, many examples of the typewriter manufacturer's art have outlasted their makers, their heirs and assigns, and soldier on to serve a new century of admirers and authors with rudimentary maintenance.

One of the attributes inherent in our graceful mechanical ballet is much-needed stability of the Final Product. In this age, our world is beset on all sides with Ephemerality. However, once the words are typed onto paper, they remain there, bearing witness to first thoughts and the nascent urges of our compositions. The Composer finds himself in amicable harness to a mannerly steed, cantering in a harmonious cadence unique among all forms of wordsmithing. When filled with struck-through passages, the typewritten draft bears testimony to its utility. It is a palimpsest of the original muse that spurred the writer of the (poem/story/recipe/billet-doux/what have you) onward to create the final message which wends its way toward its intended audience, regardless of whether that audience is composed of hoped-for thousands of readers of an upcoming popular novel or exactly one shy lover.

While the frail paper fed into this personal democratic manufacturing center is flammable, water soluble, subject to attack by pollution and insects, it has a centuries-long track record of stability, and has long since proved certain superiorities over more "modern" storage formats of suddenly obsolete media. Optical storage can go blind. Magnetic media sheds its polarity and loses its way. The slings and arrows of age, mechanical shock, and cosmic particles collude to make them all forgetful, and thin the ranks of the membered past in all of its forms. These forces assail most forms of modern storage in far more lethal fashion than its similar attacks on less-dense, cotton- or rag-based non-volatile memory (the typewritten page).

A contemporary writer need not be a Luddite to enjoy the simplicity of such a clean, spiritually honest arrangement with their creative instrument.

The machine melds with the prepared mind in effectual cyborg union limited only by the training and discipline of hand-eye co-ordination, as the biographies of many successful novelists attest.

It is no coincidence that early on, the Machines and their Operators were co-regent under the shared title "Typewriters".

Nathan Thomas

#12:

            At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I watched a huge school of fish swimming around and around the room’s perimeter in one direction. But for two or three glaring exceptions going the wrong way. It must have been hard to meet the masses head-on, but they persisted. “Why?” I thought. People who use typewriters are like those contrary fish. It’s not the typewriter being used, but the reasons behind: a choice to be different; a choice to use an ingeniously crafted human-powered 100+ year-old writing machine; a choice to relive and experience the touch, the sounds, the smell, that writers of the past knew so well; a choice to tap out one’s thoughts carefully, a letter, a word, at a time. It’s not innovative, no, but in it are conscious reflection and purposeful action, the fertile ground of innovation.


Dennis Pinpin


#13:



Erich Noack

#14:



Charles Steele


#15:

John Cooper 



#16:

Anonymous


#17:


Anonymous








It was truly hard to choose from an abundance of riches, but I hereby declare that the three winners are ...

#6 Jake Knaus, for his "yes" that tells an inspiring personal story about the infectious charm of typewriting.

#12 Dennis Pinpin, for a concise and well-crafted "no" with a memorable metaphor.

And #15 John Cooper, for effectively making the point that the question misses the point. (Check out John's typecasts.)

They will each receive a copy of The Typewriter: An Innovation in Writing. Every other entrant will get a postcard from me, if I have their address.

PS: A special tip of the fedora to Nathan Thomas for the phrase "personal democratic manufacturing center"!




Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Typer and the Pomera: new 21st-century typewriters?

The Typewriter Revolution includes chapters on intersections between typewriters and the digital world, and on the future of typewriting. In this context I discuss things such as typewriter-simulation apps, the Alphasmart, and the Hemingwrite (now rechristened the Freewrite).


In my view, a gadget like the Freewrite should be considered a word processor, not a typewriter, since it doesn't put ink on paper. But maybe that is a picky technicality. After all, typewriters can put ink on things other than paper (cloth, tin foil, leaves...) and they can type without ink (to make a stencil, for instance). In any case, the existence of the Freewrite shows that there is some demand for a more focused, simpler writing technology than what our usual digital devices offer us.

A couple of recent news stories about such inventions caught my eye. First, there is the Pomera, an "E ink typewriter" with a folding keyboard, invented in Japan, where it has supposedly been popular for a decade. The manufacturer has started a Kickstarter campaign to introduce it in the US.







"With the first model having been released in Japan in 2008, pomera will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018. In 2008, people who were using laptops on the go or on business trips were unhappy about the heavy weight, large size, slow startup and short battery life. They would carry heavy laptops just to take notes. During meetings, they would surf websites, becoming distracted from work. We wanted an easy-to-use tool just for entering text, which led us to develop pomera. Now it is used [for] taking notes as well as for writing, such as novels. We have launched pomera on Kickstarter, because we want this unique tool to be used by people in the U.S. and Japan."

The other device that drew my attention is the Typer, which I think exists purely as a design concept so far. It was created by industrial designer Yannik Goetz. What makes it different from the Freewrite or the Pomera is that it actually prints immediately onto a roll of paper. (These images come from Goetz's Instagram account and from a story here.)





The Typer's keyboard is truly minimal, and would probably be uncomfortable at first because the keys are in a grid, rather than staggered, like most typewriter and computer keyboards. The dot-matrix printing technology is what you'd find on a simple printing calculator or cash register. What is the potential market for this gadget? Probably zero.

But is it a typewriter? I vote yes. In the '80s and '90s, dot-matrix technology was used on some portable machines that were marketed as typewriters and that no one, to my knowledge, insisted on calling anything else. Here's an example (not my video):



What do you think?







Thursday, May 17, 2018

Montgomery Ward Signature 810 electric typewriter

Once in a blue moon I check shopgoodwill.com. I was scrolling through and saw this picture, which made me pause for some reason. I sensed that this was something different. There was something about its shape and color that appealed to me. So I put in a lowball bid, figuring I might have fun playing with this plastic gadget.



I was the only bidder. When the box arrived it was surprisingly heavy. This was no plastic machine: its body was solid cast aluminum. And the shape was indeed intriguing, with a scooped-out keyboard area very reminiscent of the first IBM Selectric.

The machine was pretty grimy, as you can see if you compare the left half of the keyboard to the untouched right half:

 



Naturally, I removed the shell and did my best to overhaul the typewriter.



It's an impressive little piece of machinery:



And there are plenty of signs of high-quality design and construction, such as these well-hinged plastic paper guides that you can pull away from the platen.



Sadly, it's not working properly. There's a missing tooth in this rack that means the typewriter will always skip a space.



Well, it's still interesting as a piece of industrial design.

But what is this thing?

The Montgomery Ward Signature 810 was made in Nagoya, Japan, which marks it as a Brother product, specifically the type JP-4 electric machine (according to the helpful information on The Typewriter Database). The serial number on this specimen, F0693817, dates it at 1970.



This particular model is quite hard to find, as is the fancier 811D. This example seen online sets and clears the tab stops with buttons on either side of the tab bar, whereas the 810 only has pre-set stops. The 811D also has one typebar with exchangeable type (activated by the red key).



There is also a model 812D that I haven't seen.

These electrics were clearly designed in tandem with some manual Brothers, such as the Signature 511D (this is Ted Munk's machine).



I imagine that the 810 was not a market success because it lacked an electric carriage return and was probably pretty expensive, given the high quality of its materials and construction.

For some reason, I like this pastel green color much better than baby blue. How about you?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Remington Sixteen

This machine was brought in for repair to Urban Legend Typewriters. It's going to be a graduation present for a high-school girl.

I've never actually gotten my hands on a Remington Sixteen before. This machine is essentially the same as the Remington 10, the company's first frontstroke typewriter, introduced in 1908—but this Sixteen was made in September, 1933. The model stayed in regular production until 1939, with a trickle continuing all the way into 1942 and the outbreak of the Second World War. By that time, this typewriter was truly an old-fashioned machine, which had been technically superseded in January 1939 by the all-new Model Seventeen. The 17 was the basis of the KMC and all the later standard manual Remingtons.

This typewriter needed plenty of cleaning and several repairs, but it's now working well and it is a very pretty machine. So I thought I'd share it on this blog.





Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Baltimore & Breker

I was in Baltimore last weekend for a conference and took the opportunity to check out the funky antique shops in the great Hampden neighborhood.

I did not walk away with a typewriter. The Underwood no. 5 in this shop was something like $495, and the Royal portable was $295.



I enjoyed seeing this ad on an Underwood shift key:



A few blocks away, I was hoping to visit Ken & Ray's typewriter shop (as seen on this blog a few years ago):




Sadly, it has been replaced:



The shop is part of a very picturesque street (click to enlarge):



Happily, Ken & Ray are still in business (info here) even though they no longer maintain this storefront.

Meanwhile, I got the latest catalogue from Auction Team Breker. The only unusual typewriter on offer this time is a Thürey, but there are many other beautiful mechanical antiques. As usual, I would like to offer this catalogue to a reader of this blog. The first person to e-mail his or her US address to me at polt@xavier.edu will get it. (Update: the catalogue has been claimed.)