Without Plug or Productivity

With one click of the mouse, I became a collector. I bought a second typewriter.

Olympia Model "S"
The new: Olympia Model “S”

I bought my first typewriter in October 2011.  Goodwill opened a store in the area, which my partner and I promptly checked out. It turned out to be a well-planned visit as I found a Smith-Corona Classic 12 in fine condition sitting on the shelves, waiting to be snagged by the first analog-enthusiast to cross its path. I didn’t know it yet, but I was one such enthusiast.

Smith-Corona Classic 12
The less-new: Smith-Corona Classic 12

Over the months that followed, I would learn how to properly clean it, fix some of the keys that were stuck, and that, while the office supply store does not carry the ribbons I needed, e-commerce would make finding such things possible. Every step of the way, I was excited. I was engaging with a technology that had supposedly become outdated and loving it.

Not least of all, I was enjoying the use of the machine. The purposeful pressure placed on each key, the arm slapping the roller and the paper superstitiously interceding so a character may appear. Over and over. I’d type nonsense and streams of consciousness and letters to my partner a room away. Just to be typing. I would type the same thing over and over again; craft a letter in many drafts. Just to make use of the machine.

Even as I enjoyed this endeavor, I found myself wondering why it was so enjoyable. Was I really doing anything other than what I did on a daily basis at my job, i.e. rendering language into writing via a machine? What was so enjoyable about doing this on a typewriter?

Well, I do enjoy typing, generally. I am good at it: fast, proficient, etc. But that wasn’t enough to explain the joy I was experiencing with my Classic 12. I don’t have a definitive answer on that point, although I have my suspicions. It has to do with the very meaning of what it is to “use” such a thing; of what use can be made of a so-called “old” and “outdated” technology. Certainly,  typewriters are not widely used productively, if they are used that way at all. Maybe in some dusty corner of industry, but otherwise I cannot imagine anyone is typing up reports on a typewriter, even an electric one. And data-entry? What would it even mean on a typewriter? That is technology we could not even think before the computer.  So it seems evident that the typewriter is outmoded.

So my delight in using it is influenced by the fact that it is so utterly removed from that realm: work. It is an activity entirely divorced from that mindless slog. And, unlike work, it is an act of choice and not necessity. It has a scope that is always self-determined. It partakes in wonder; the child-like delight of play. Play not as the opposite of work, but work that is fulfilling: of me and the end-product, but not a business’s bottom line.

Buying a typewriter is a purchase against the grain: it is almost always used, it is a product whose supply is dwindling rather than being created in excess, it engages one in an activity at odds with the über-productive “Puritan” work ethic of corporate America. In short, it’s wonderful. I am glad to now have a couplet, and so a little more of myself, too.


48 thoughts on “Without Plug or Productivity

  1. What a beautiful machine you got there.
    I think it really depends whether a typewrite is productive or not: Sure, you cannot edit your document once written and have to scan it afterwards with a text recognition software if you want to process it further, but on the other hand it offers you a kind of distraction-free writing (I mean without the internet and all the other things that you have on your computer)

    1. exactly – distraction free – the vast array of possibilities that appear when you sit to work at your computer are like the four legged chair that confuses the lion in the circus. My only problem is that when I use a typewriter, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to have to rewrite all this’ – it looks like labour saving devices win over nostalgia

  2. I use to have a typewriter, but my little brother got into it and took a hammer to it. He thought he was fixing it. I want to buy another one so badly! This post only makes me want one even more!

    1. Haunt your local thrift stores! Or keep an eye on eBay. The shipping costs can be a major drawback given how hefty typewriters are, but there are reasonable sellers out there. Good luck in your search!

  3. I know what you mean with this, I write with a fountain pen and prefer it over any other type, because it is out dated, with gel pens and roller balls and bic biros, I wtill use my French Waterman! It is another outlet for creativity. 🙂

    1. Fountain pens are fantastic. I am a bit of a pen connoisseur myself, but I agree that the fountain pen has newer models beat. Sometimes just writing by hand seems to be an act of using an “outdated” technology. It has similar limits to the typewriter in terms of efficiency. It would not surprise you to know that I enjoy handwriting, too.

  4. My parents used to own a typewriter back in the day and I loved to type on it when I was younger. I remember even using it once to type up a school report (because we didn’t own a computer). Once hittinng university though and only having computers around, I definitely do not comprehend how people could have used a typewriter to type up a 30 page research paper and avoid spelling mistakes and typos! I can’t even imagine what a hassle it would be if they wanted to change a sentence they just typed!…It is an entirely different experience altogether compared to using a computer!

    Great post and congrats on being FP. This post totally brought back fond memories for me. 🙂

  5. Can definitely corroborate your abstract love of just making use of these machines. I smiled when I saw your two – my own Classic 12 is at home in the US while my “new” Olympia currently sits here in Germany (with transposed Y and X keys). Lots of loud fun.

  6. Perhaps the joy of using the typewriter is watching what you’re creating come to life. Like a carpenter carving wood, or a bricklayer building a wall. I also like to think of this as helpful to writers: before putting down the words, the restrictive use of backspace (with whiteout strips) causes them to think before they write, each and every letter or word. I think some writers still do this, and it is excellent practice for creative and critical thinking.

    1. I agree that typewriting can force more deliberative writing. But sometimes my inability to quickly delete what I type allows me to grapple with words and thoughts I may have, otherwise, quickly dismissed. Different medium really does make for different writing.

  7. I own a gorgeous Underwood typewriter (possibly a 1930s Champion?) that I inherited from my grandmother. She wrote local history, and let me learn how to type on that typewriter. My grandfather even gave me little things to type for his work. I wish I still had my old Royal Saturn electric that I used at home as a kid. I love the smell of the old typewriters especially. Computers don’t have anything quite as visceral as the mixed aroma of oil and ink. 🙂

  8. My coworkers have complained that I type too loudly, like I’m on a typewriter. I love the machines you bought! Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re writing unless you are furiously, loudly, banging away at the keys.

  9. Having in fact produced many long essays in university on a typewriter and beginning my journalism career on one in 1978, I get it! One of the great joys of using a typewriter is when you hate what you’ve written and with a screech of the platen yank the offender out and scrunch it up and throw it across the room. I still write for a living (on a computer) and I miss the sensuality of typewriters.

    Some of us actually did once, physically, “cut and paste.” 🙂

  10. I was pulled to this post on the Freshly Pressed page because of that picture of your new typewriter. There really is something special about this machine. It just has a LOOK. You can see something extraordinary there…there’s history and character to it that a computer just can’t hold. Typewriters are growing oddly in a cult-fringe way, a trend amongst “hipsters” most would say. But I respected your post for attempting to get to the root of why it feels good to own and use a typewrite and not just rely on the fact that it’s a trendy, hip, cool thing to do these days.

    Your explanation made me realize what a thrill there could be to applying that added pressure on a keystroke and feeling the reaction of your pressure, that hammer pounding ink onto the paper. It sounds like fun, “the child-like delight of play” as you say. Perhaps, I’ll go shopping around for a typewriter and see what all the fuss is about.

  11. I haven’t had a typewriter for years! But I totally empathise with the sense of purpose you feel as you press the keys and the ding and move and the funny spacing you inevitably get between the letters is just so perfect. Well done for being Freshly pressed btw

  12. I loved playing with my mother’s typewriter and still loved playing with it even after computers arrived. There is something about the clicking of the keys. It makes you seem like you are actually creating something physical (oh wait, because you are!) that is lost in translation to a computer keyboard. I hope you continue to enjoy them.

  13. We used to have a typewriter at home and it was fun. I had to search for the letters and my fingers were small enough that they got between the keys! I also noticed that if I did not assert the same pressure to some keys, the letters came out faint. I am so glad you found the machines and still delight in using them. And so true, you don’t need a plug with these manual typewriters.

  14. I have never ever used a typewriter .. i always admired it sitting on the headmaster’s table next to her computer but i do love to write on my notebook with a fountain pen it feels so special.

  15. I too have a longing for a typewriter, and is it coincidence I saw one in my local Goodwill yesterday (Sunday)? Wonder what I will have to do to prep my first one. I wonder if universities and other such places (i.e. free lance submissions, editorials, resumes) would even accept type written reports.
    Glad to see I’m not the only one who wants to run off of a typewriter too!

    1. I used my typewriter to write a letter to contest a parking ticket I received (I had paid for parking but the slip showing such had blown over when I closed the door!) I was a little afraid that the city would think me eccentric (or worse) for having sent a type-written letter. Luckily, the ticket was forgiven!

  16. I learned to write using my mother’s Imperial portable, then wore out an Olivetti, then moved on to an Adler Gabriele 25, which I still have. I wrote most of my university papers on it, and some of my early books. I still have it. Along the way I bought an IBM Selectric II, which I also still have (it doesn’t work).

    I use a PC and Word today. But typewriters are cool. They have something computers don’t. Delightful expressions of twentieth century tech – and of a lost world.

    1. The danger of professing one’s love for older technologies is to be seen as a kind of Luddite regarding newer technologies. As is evident from having a blog, I also enjoy the use of a computer. In fact, I think that going between typewriter and computer helps to keep the value of each in perspective.

  17. Reblogged this on Bored American Tribune. and commented:
    This post brings back memories — I wrote my first novella when I was eleven years old (hint: the novella was atrocious) on a typewriter. I didn’t really have a choice, actually: I grew up pretty damn poor so my family couldn’t afford a computer and they all knew at that point that I wanted to be a writer, so they hunted down my Grandpa’s old typewriter. I still miss that beautiful typewriter sound — that constant clacking that let you know you were really doing your work. — J.W.

  18. I was in a model home a few months back and there was a classic typewriter in the basement. It was part of a writer’s section. I took a photo of it. And thought I might buy a classic one day. And just sit with it alone….see what happens!

  19. I recently acquired an old typewriter (monarch by Remington portable) and I LOVE it. Ive been growled at for beating up computer keyboards with my lead fingers. If you learnt to type on an old typewriter you just know the feeling of pounding the keys with superhuman fingertips! I almost go into a trance when using my typewriter, it is so SATISFYING! Thank you for putting into words what I was feeling, and congratulations for being FP!

  20. What a thought provoking (nostalgic?) post. I have just started a blog, and find myself eyeing old typewriters in shops and thinking about old fashioned writers. They are a world away from the everyday office computer. When I was in primary school, computers were still a rarity and my parents invested in a second hand typewriter for me. I would like to have that rickety typewriter back.

  21. I wanted a typewriter until I read ‘Misery’ by Stephen King. As lovely as they are, unfortunately I associate it with the book. I wish I hadn’t read it, would have really enjoyed tapping away the keys. I’ve never seen one being used, grew up in the 90s. Is it terribly cumbersome?

    1. I’ll count myself glad to not have read /Misery/ then!

      I wouldn’t describe using a typewriter as cumbersome, although it is certainly a different (physical) experience from using a computer. Depending on the era the typewriter comes from, it can be more or less removed from using a computer keyboard…

  22. Typewriter is really fun idea*)) I think, some of us will write very good stories or novels if he has a worked typewriter )I want to buy one, but we have got only expenciveold-fashioned machines*(

  23. I love using my Olympia SM-3 Typewriter to write poetry. Unlike a laptop, there are no distractions, its just me and the writing. There is something so tactile and enjoyable about typing on a typewriter. Glad that people fell the same way as me. 🙂

  24. I own an Imperial Good Companion – Model T, but you’ve made me feel like a fraud. I never use it. It just sits there on a cool cabinet we have looking all pretty. Might just tap something out over the weekend.

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