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.


  1. Very nice article, as are the accompanying photos. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

  2. Great article. You chose some real beauties from your collection to illustrate the story.

  3. Richard I thoroughly enjoyed the article. Thanks for sharing out the link. About item number 9 (Sensations): That is an important factor for me. I love the sound a typewriter makes as I am using it. The little bell at the end of the line is the coach that tells me "Good job Gordon! Another line down on paper. Keep going."

  4. Great article Richard. The photos are super too. I can't wait for your book. You may start something in the Typosphere Blogosphere now. Remember what happened with Adwoa's 21 questions?

    1. Extremely difficult to expand this list!

  5. Sounds pretty convincing to me. :)

  6. Excellent reasons very persuasively put. Very enjoyable read :)

  7. All good points, and, as usual, good eye candy.

  8. I don't mind Hipsters at all. But then again... typewriters will survive them.

    Don't get me wrong, but I feel typewriters are just more than an actual trend (or at least should be)

  9. Great points made! Though regarding # 11, I would say typewriters served the businesses/institutions efficiently till the advent of the desktop computers and those rickety daisy-wheel printers. Of course, people planned ahead if they had a report to deliver and not procrastinating on it till the last day :)

  10. is that the Purple Prose Producer I spy at the end there? I've always had a crush on that machine :)

  11. I'm sad to report that the article seems to have disappeared from the Internet. I even tried the Wayback Machine.

    1. Thanks for the alert, I have added the text and pictures here.

  12. That's all true.
    My advice as a Typewriting Teacher and Typist:-
    Typewriters are eco-friendly,
    budget friendly,
    two colour typing,
    simple to operate,
    easy to carry (portable),
    for confidential work,
    for giving your brain a due exercise.

  13. Writing prescriptions or using I prescribe had become boating to death. I found this type writer from a hoarded room that I had purchased for my daughter that left. Decided to give it try at work. You can imagine the fun and excitement it has brought to my life now that I type that prescription. And eye rolling of nurses that can’t stand the sound of the past and their laughters only humerus me. Now job is more fun. Sometimes with adding a little from the past you can make ordinary life more pleasant. Fix that tube radio with its magnificent deep tone. Use a typewriter. Bring a rotary phone and use it once a week for fun. You don’t know how fun life is and we are losing it to our iPhones.