Sunday, July 20, 2008
It's big, black, and heavy, but requires no electricity. It does need a ribbon of ink, rudimentary typing ability, paper, and some creativity. This particular model dates from the mid to late 1920s, probably 1926 or thereabouts, as best I can determine. It's a Corona Four typewriter.
Why do I keep it around when I have a contemporary computer? First, I'm drawn to this kind of thing, both in terms of historical interest and aesthetics. Second, having it around reminds me of how a lot of writing was done until, relatively speaking, quite recently. Third, it reminds me to slow down and carefully consider the writing process.
Typing on a typewriter is quite a different experience than typing on a contemporary computer. We've grown accustomed to illuminated screens, cutting and pasting, easily spewing out text (sometimes without giving it much thought), making quick corrections, and the associated wizardry that word processing software can accomplish. I don't diminish the value of such software, but, rather, try to keep it in perspective.
But to place a sheet of paper in a typewriter, get it ready to go, and see it in front of you is a tactile experience. You set up the paper, you prepare the typewriter, you begin to type, and the words appear immediately on paper. There is no correction key, no cutting and pasting unless scissors are involved, no computerized spell checking. I believe typing on a typewriter for creative purposes (I exclude government memos and such) likely resulted in more careful thought on the part of the writer and, therefore, better writing.
Have we lost this careful thought in writing today? It is so easy to dash off an e-mail, blog post, or even a text message that in my estimation meaningful language and communication have suffered tremendously. Of course, careful thought is not the exclusive domain of writing on a typewriter.
But applying this careful thought to writing on a computer is another matter - one that requires deliberate effort, discernment of the part of the user, and a certain degree of intelligent awareness of what one is doing and the broader implications. In these respects, may the relic of the typewriter remind us to choose our words carefully.