Tuesday, September 29, 2015

10 Reasons to Use a Typewriter

Here's my story on "10 Reasons to Use a Typewriter Today" — renamed by the editors of Rodale's Organic Life as "10 Non-Hipster Reasons To Use A Typewriter Instead Of A Laptop." (Personally I don't mind hipsters.) Hope you enjoy it.

(Update, 2018: the story on the Rodale's website has disappeared—as has the whole website!—but here's the text.)

10 Reasons to Use a Typewriter Today

Richard Polt

I’m drafting this story on a typewriter—a Gossen Tippa Pilot, a sleek West German “laptop” of the ’50s.

What am I? A madman? A masochist? What possessed me to tote a mechanical writing machine to the patio this sunny afternoon, instead of the far more efficient and flexible laptops of today?

If I’m a madman, at least there are many more in the madhouse. You may run across 21st-century typists writing poems for passers-by; typing a blog post to be photographed and uploaded; using type and ink to sketch a scene; playing the typewriter as a percussion instrument; tapping away at a digital detox party, where phones are checked at the door; or joining others for a letter-writing session. For my book The Typewriter Revolution (Countryman Press, November 2015), I interviewed 50 writers, artists, activists, kids, teachers, and inventors who share my feeling about typewriters: love.

Is there something we know that the general public doesn’t? Can we give you one good reason why you should use a typewriter in this day and age?

No. We can give you ten.

1. Sustainability. Digital devices are churned out under questionable labor conditions, suck up energy every day, and become hazardous e-waste within a few years. But a manual typewriter will work for decades, powered only by your own muscles. It’s healthy exercise that never pollutes. As for paper, look around and you’ll find reams that go to waste every day. Lighten the load of the recycling bin and use that paper to record your thoughts. The earth will thank you.

2. Durability. How many things do you own that were built before your birth and are likely to survive your death? Precious few, I bet. But the high-quality typewriters of the twentieth century were made to last. You can learn to maintain them with a little care and common sense. Ribbons are still readily available. There’s nothing to stop you from using your typewriter for the rest of your life. Your personalities will rub off on each other over the years.

3. Focus. A typewriter was made to do one thing: type. On a computer, it’s so easy to give in to the temptation to check something else when the going gets tough. It’s an attention deficit supermarket. A typewriter invites you to sink into writing—no turning back, no multitasking, charging ahead clear-sightedly and decisively.

4. Privacy. We all know by now that anything we do digitally may be visible to hackers, corporations, governments, or the planet at large. The world is looking over your shoulder. But a typewriter is a truly private machine; it doesn’t store your words, and your typing will be read by no one but you unless you choose to share. It’s refreshing to know that your writings are truly your own—and it’s no wonder that top-secret agencies from the Kremlin to MI6 rely on typewriters today.

5. Self-reliance. With no need for electricity, software updates, incomprehensible legal agreements, or mysterious chips, your manual typewriter really belongs to you. It cultivates independence and allows you to understand your own tools. That’s a healthy relationship to your things, your activities, and your words.

6. Correspondence. We’ve never had more “friends,” but a real friend is hard to find, and digital communication always involves barriers and ambiguities that tend to keep relationships superficial. Sometimes a slower approach is more powerful. Type a letter to your friend; when she receives it days later, I guarantee that she’ll be touched.

7. Connections. Typewriters can also create real-time connections. In many cities, you’ll find writers offering to compose stories or poems for the public on their trusty machines. The typewriters make the exchange real and dramatic; they create tangible texts that reflect people’s wishes and emotions. It’s not uncommon for a street poet to be repaid with a hug. And typewriter lovers are coming up with social ideas—type-ins, snail mail parties, public typing stations—so people can get together to make connections that go deeper than the digital.

8. Compatibility. We 21st-century typists don’t hate digital devices; we just reject the all-digital mindset. When it’s time to connect the typewritten and digital worlds, it’s easier than you might think. A typescript can be scanned and turned into digital text. You can also take a snapshot of your typing and e-mail, tweet, or Instagram it. There’s even the USB Typewriter, a kit that adds digital capacity to a functioning manual typewriter, letting it do double duty as a keyboard or save your words to an SD card.

(courtesy of Jack Zylkin, usbtypewriter.com)]

9. Sensations. The click of the typebars and the ringing of the bell are a soundtrack that constantly rewards you for producing your text. (Want a quieter experience? Try a “noiseless” typewriter from the ’30s or ’40s.) The shapes and colors of a well-designed typewriter are more treats, as are the feel of a glass keytop, the heft of a carriage, and even the aroma of ink and oil. Using a typewriter just feels good.

10. Non-efficiency. Typewriters aren’t for business anymore. I wouldn’t advise using one to write up that sales report that’s due at 9 AM tomorrow. No—they’re for fun. And when something is fun, getting it done as quickly as possible is a mistake. Enjoy the process, relax about the product, and savor the experience. Typewriting is like riding a bike, not like speeding down the Interstate. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Try a typewriter and glory in the non-efficient.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Using a typewriter: survey results

How do people use typewriters in the second decade of the 21st century?

My survey was designed to begin answering that question. I advertised it on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (yielding 37 participants, even though users had to type a URL themselves instead of clicking a link), the Yahoo groups TYPEWRITERS and The Portable Typewriter Forum, Reddit, and the Typewriter Talk bulletin board.

In sum, there were 307 respondents. What great participation!

This was a simple survey, and it doesn't get into questions such as how often participants do various specific activities, or how many typewriters they use. It just tells us what percentages of respondents have at least tried various activities with a typewriter.

I filled out the survey myself too, of course. I use a typewriter nearly every day and have done most things on the survey, except using a typewriter to publish on paper or to create visual art or music. The main use I didn't anticipate in the survey is keeping a diary or journal. I do that by hand, but several respondents type theirs.

On to the results—a glimpse of the uses of typewriters today:

Participants left 80 comments which are interesting and entertaining:

writing daily journal

I use my typewriter for school work, when I have an appropriate assignment.

(Clearer answer to first question - use varies; I use it much more during NaNoWriMo! Also, my use has gone down since moving to a smaller place and having to store most of my collection. :-( ) I use typewriters mainly for drafting as you cannot delete. I use them most when I am frustrated with a scene and need to just get a draft DONE already; the physical act of typing is a good release of that pent-up frustration! (My favorite machine is a heavy, ginormous Remington desk typewriter (probably from the '50s) with a ridiculously satisfying bell to boot.)

As the secretary of our local Fish and Game Association, I take the minutes with a S-C Skyriter on my lap, never a problem reading what I wrote.

Typewritten correspondence delivers an outsize wallop. Children love typewriters, as do youth jaded with digital. I advised a school class in the purchase and use of a typewriter for a class newsletter. Viva the revolution!

I find typewriters particularly conducive to writing and editing poetry. I write my academic work (art historical criticism) on a laptop exclusively, because I can link to the internet for research and images. When I write creatively, I tend to handwrite first (scrawling across post-it notes and junk-mail envelopes) because it allows me to be very free at the beginning. After all, who's intimidated by a blank page when that page is the back of a Trader Joe's receipt? When I think I've actually got something surprisingly worthwhile, I take that idea to the typewriter. Admittedly, I'm a slow typist--that is not a bad thing at this point. The feel of the typewriter keys and the sound that comes with each motion helps me to appreciate the need for slowness at this point. In writing poetry, each word counts. It is difficult to evaluate (or simply value) each word on a computer, where entire documents can deleted with a click or two.

Potentially writing fiction in private

Exercising my hands to maintain and improve manual dexterity

Writing notes on card stock to family and friends

I like to alternate typewriters for the pleasure of their differences. I enjoy cleaning up a typewriter and small adjustments, bringing them up to good working order. I will even use a different font for the effect it has on different documents. There is a late night typing machine (Royal Quiet Delux) a travel machine, several standards for their robust action, and even several with plastic shells that are interesting in design: like the Olivetti Studio 45. I encourage other people to use a manual, though not with much success yet; but plan to share mine with other people who show an interest in typewriters. 

I suppose writing a journal counts as nonfiction. 

Journal writing, and miscellaneous practice typing. Sometimes I take a typewriter that I haven't used for a while and do some typing just to keep it loose, so to speak.

Preparing course notes. Typing poetry. Either copying or typing from memory. 

for homework.

Grocery lists

Repairing and adjusting machines I acquire from ebay, trade, gift, salvage, shopgoodwill, flea markets. Cleaning and installing new ribbons to add them to my collection, make them ready for resale or for my own use. Oliver, Fox, upstrike or backstrike machines or Blicks and typewriters of that era, or rare machines, I display rather than use. 

Testing the action of a typewriter I'm restoring and/or repairing

Testing for collection or sale

I enjoy typing quotations, lyrics and other short pieces. The moment usually comes about after a whisky or 2. 

*I just type. I type what comes out on the TV, or as much of a nearby conversation as I can. What ever comes to mind, like a stream of consciousness a la Jack Kerouac. Probably the most typed phrase for me, as handed down to me by my late father, " Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country." This always gets my fingers warmed up for whatever typing I'll be doing. One of my favorites is to put out a typewriter at my kid's birthday parties and invite guest to write something to them, to read in the future. Using it as a guest log at functions. 

I'm writing a book and the main character is a returning assault correspondent from WWII. Typing fictional dispatches and human interest pieces as well as the initial draft of scenes is a wonderful way to get into the character's head. 

Recording commonplaces in a "commonplace notebook" for school.

I primarily use typewriters for drafts of speeches, online posts, and to get general ideas into paper. It's really the best way I have to get complex thoughts into linear prose. I also type for the sheer joy of it. It's relaxing in the same way as preparing vegetables for a nice meal. For some things, like toasts at weddings, I'll present the honorees with typewritten copy on nice stationery as a memento for them to keep. 

Keeping a diary.

Type Italian new words for making me remember better 

I keep a typewriter at my work and use it regularly to type labels. When we switched printers a few years ago we couldn't print for a week, so the typewriter was used for urgent letters. I've written just a few private letters in the last five years. "Writing poetry" is a once a year event. When we celebrate Sinterklaas (the older brother of Santa Claus) in the Netherlands we give each other anonymous presents with a funny (bad) poem. I use the typewriter to disguise my handwriting (not very effectively since everyone knows I'm the guy with the typewriters).

I type Post-Its, which falls in the category of "other small jobs" above. People sometimes ask how I get the little Post-It rolled into the typewriter. "Easy," I say. "I stick the Post-It to a piece of paper, and I roll that piece of paper into the typewriter. I also type checks, another small job. My first boss, nearly 50 years ago, used to type his checks, and I thought his checks looked very good. So I started typing my checks, and I have continued to this day. ("Grandpa, what's a check?") 

Journaling, writing letters for my children to read and share after I am gone.

Writing essays

Collecting and appreciating 

repairing them for relaxation and admiration

Envelopes, labels

Using it for the job, writing first drafts of articles.

I've used it to create cards. Birthday, anniversary etc. 

Copying notes to make them more legible and compact. 

Teaching grandchildren (ages 4, 5, 6 and 8) to use them. They absolutely love to compose typewritten notes.

Used one of my several typewriters for people to "type in" at screenings of my typewriter documentary. Fun twist on the mailing list. 

I seem to spend a lot of time renovating & repairing typewriters... Also, the typewriters got me keeping a diary or journal this year, which was a crisis year in which I really needed to be doing something reflective like that. Notebooks weren't working - I felt unmotivated and didn't keep it up - and had stopped even thinking about the idea of keeping any kind of journal. I didn't plan to start using the typewriters that way; it just happened. Also, started using typewriters for creative writing workshops with teenagers - with spectacular results! I will add that when I'm writing poetry and fiction/non-fiction it is for publication, or notes towards something for publication. It's what I do...


Journaling my everyday.

Just collect them !!!


Writing general notes

I also use a typewriter for brainstorming and train-of-thought writing.

I often simply pick a machine to merrily rip away on memorized texts.

I suppose it's a "Small job" - I use the typewriter on my desk to keep a running to-do list.

Testing one once bought.

I write Doctor Who fan fiction for people to raise money for a cat rescue in LA. Yesterday I wrote 6 stories and raised $529!

It's a 35KSR Teletype not a typewriter; but yeah, it's the system console to my small hobbyist PDP-11 system.

The Perfect Typewriter survey is still one of my favorite posts. This one is sure to be just as revealing. Kind regards, TheShyTypospherian

My letter of resignation!

Louise Marler here. You know me! [Louise is an artist. —Richard]

I write a lot of journal entries on my typewriter.

regularly use my typewriters for shopping lists, and often leave typewritten notes prompting kids to do homework, stuck onto digital devices etc. we also use typewriters as a metronome for music practice, not exactly music but certainly a fun way to make music practice less of a chore on those 'difficult' days!

My version of blogging is improvising a short essay (one or two sides) on a particular subject or life event, whipping the sheet of paper off of the platen and putting it straight into the shredder. I do this perhaps once or twice a month.

My wife brings one of mine to school to show the 1st graders.

As the subject of a photo. 

I have several family members who enjoy typed letters. I exercise my small collection of typewriters through correspondence. However, I never learned how to touch type so it is a slow and difficult process for me. I prefer to write recursively, editing and re-organizing constantly for clarity, so I am not quite used to the "committed to paper" form typewriting takes. Though I don't mean to, I occasionally end up sending out strange stream-of-consciousness rambles to baffled family members. 

typing things up for other people who don't have typewriters, non-work related memos and lists

Playing with grandchildren. 

Loan out a typewriter to someone who is interested, but unsure if he/she wants to purchase a machine (test drive).

making labels for envelopes preparing lists if very long or long lasting typing short post"em notes

Mr. Polt, In addition to the above, the typewriter (Olympia SM9) sits in plain view on my desk which can be seen from everywhere in my tiny studio, except the bathroom. It sits there mocking me, taunting me to get up and WRITE something! M

Don't know if it counts, but I'm learning to touch type, using a typing course from 1977. I find it much easier to use a typewriter than to learn on a computer keyboard. I will then adapt my typing action to use the computer. I tried learning directly on a computer, but I hated it! I guess the sensory pleasure of using a typewriter alleviates the boredom of typing drills!

Weigt of my Hermes Baby (1942) is the same as my notebook (2006) - but the typewriter works from the moment I touch Him and not disturbs me with capacity of acumulator and hot-news-stupidities from web. (Sorry for my english :-)

Brainstorming, planning, free association typing, journaling

Paying bills. Ever since I read your blog post on Having Fun Paying Bills I use a typewriter to fill out my checks.

In addition to the above, I type "Pages" everyday, as suggested in The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. This makes sure I cycle through all the typewriters in my collection, as well as gearing up my mind for the day ahead.

I have used the typewriter as a recovery tool. I use it to slow down my thinking and to focus on words and thoughts without the distractions of popups, emails, messages, web browsing, etc. After an accident, I was diagnosed with a cognitive issues that causes some scrambling of messages. (Expressive-Receptive Cognitive Disorder) I also have been diagnosed with ADHD. I also use it as a recovery tool by using it to get me out of my depression, and that feeling of being stuck at home doing nothing. I find typewriters, repair them, and then sell or give them to others. I am not mechanically inclined, but I find that all the tinkering gets me out of my head and out of the all the struggling I am doing.

- playwriting - journaling - note-taking (for research)

Great idea to have this survey! 

Grocery Lists, thank-you cards, birthday cards

I rewrite thank you notes and some gift cards on it.

I have filled my school office with typewriters and have inspired four elementary grade students to find their own machines.

I am big on the aesthetics of typewriters. Functional art I call them. 

Typing out University notes and examination papers 

Writing checks

I practise to improve speed and accuracy using a typing manual.

You seem to forget an important question. " how many typerwriters do u use regularly or in collection

Testing the various functions of the typewriter.

Thanks, everyone! In light of your experiences, there can be no doubt that typewriters are useful devices in the 21st century.

Feel free to add more comments below ...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Live video chat, September 27

David Wells (Vermont Vintage Typewriter blog) kindly invited me to speak about my book via video chat with a type-in he hosted in connection with the Burlington Book Festival on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

Here's the video.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Survey: How do you use a typewriter?

Last year I ran a survey on the "perfect typewriter" that attracted a lot of participation. I took the results into consideration for my book.

Let's try another one, a simple survey with just two multiple-choice questions. The topic of this poll is how you use a typewriter (if at all).

Click here to take the survey. It will be open for one week.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Postcards from the desert & the Blunderwood Portable

The revolution in the mailbox keeps hopping. Komrad Van Cleave recently sent me a typewritten card featuring the unearthly landscape of Bryce Canyon.


And this bicycle assemblage was postmarked Black Rock City, Nevada ...

A Blickensderfer at Burning Man! Hats off to Alex Volkov—and thanks for the card.

The Burning Man festival is discussed in my book, where I describe some typewriter installations that have been set up there. I write:  

Burning Man creates a bubble of weirdness within 'the default world' of rational utility. It’s not just a neo-Woodstockian free-for-all, but an experiment in creating a special place and time that operates under a different economy—an economy of the gift, where the ethos is to be generous and pay it forward. Burners devote themselves to the gloriously useless. Not unlike makers, they like to play and tinker for the sheer pleasure of seeing what will happen. What better place for typewriters?

I just wish that the Blunderwood Portable—the ultimate Burning Man typewriter—had appeared in time to make it into my book. (Second edition, maybe?) The Blunderwood was a giant typewriter in the tradition of the gigantic working Underwood that was exhibited at fairs in the first half of this century, and was updated along with the Underwood line ...

The Blunderwood is also in the tradition of the 1937 musical "Ready, Willing, and Able" ...

... and "Typewriter Tip Tip Tip" from "Bombay Talkie" (1970) ...

... and then there are the giant typewriters that repeatedly appear in superhero comics ...

... but let's get to the Blunderwood!

Photo above by Amie Barsky 

Constructed by the Cat and the Cockroach Collective in Boston, the Blunderwood was envisioned as a tribute to Don Marquis' archy & mehitabel, where cockroach archy types e. e. cummings-like poems on a typewriter by jumping on the keys. 

Wouldn't it be fun to write like archy? And thus the Blunderwood was born, with some crowdfunding help. Unlike the old giant Underwood, it was not really a working mechanical typewriter, but some "typed" sheets bearing poems by archy and other texts were displayed on it during the day, and people could climb and dance on the keys. It could also go into typing mode (I presume at night) and display the characters that you stepped on. According to cynthiatravels on Instagram:

It made clicking sounds when you stepped on the keys, projected it onto the screen (you could even see the back), and it ka-ching'ed when it went to the next line!!

Cynthia's photo:

At the end of Burning Man, the Blunderwood was consigned to the flames.

Quite a few wonderful photos of the Blunderwood are available online. Here are some of my favorites. I give credit to the photographer wherever I have a name or an Instagram username. (And if any photographer objects to the presence of a photo here, let me know and I'll remove it.) I don't know who took the photo below.

This one is by Julia Protasova:

by b0uj:

by Danny Hoz:

by deifgiri:

Two by Cory Doctorow, who in the past has promoted typewriter-related news on BoingBoing:

by Steven Smethurst:

by Kirk Anderson:

by Michael & Sandy:

by Michael Holden:

by Dave Rimington:

by Neil Girling:

And a set by Zachary Reiss-Davis ...

... who unfurled a very special sheet of typing ...

... and got a Yes!

Congratulations to Zachary, Kristen, and the Cat and the Cockroach Collective!