An Agence France-Presse report originating from Los Angeles on Beverly Hills’ last typewriter repairman and “the return of the art of slow writing” circulated recently via The Australian and other organs. It seems to have struck a chord—albeit a jangling one—as writers on Twitter tweet about their experiences in the days of clattering keys:
“It was the three mistakes have to type a new page, and the bloody carbon paper that got me,” remarked British SF and fantasy writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood. “Love the machines though.”
Why do some still favor typewriters? “It slows you down. You have to choose the words carefully because you cannot correct,” declares Ermanno Marzorati, typewriter repairer extraordinaire, in the article. “It takes a long time to press the key.”
Marzorati’s trade may seem as arcane nowadays as a watchmaker’s, but his comments echo other recent remarks by writers and commentators who decry the prospects for distraction when reading, or writing, on a digital device.
There are eulogies to the typewriter to be found online that are a sheer visual and typographical delight—look at this one, from the Australian Typewriter Museum in Canberra. Terry Gilliam couldn’t have done better with his amazing clackety designs for “Brazil.”
“Writing on a computer is very distracting, because you get email coming in, you type a word, you delete it, you change it, you get stuck,” says Marzorati in the report.
Not every writer shares these views. “The typing thing is a very old habit (or compromise),” Paul McAuley, the UK science fiction author, told me. “I no longer end the day’s work after exactly five pages—even if it meant breaking off in the middle of a sentence.”
I can personally vouch for the merit of some at least of what Marzorati says. I use handwriting recognition with 7notes on my Google Nexus 7 for my creative stuff, as well as an awful lot of my hackwork these days, exactly because it takes a little more care, inserts a pause for thought into my creative process, makes me mull over my words while shaping them by hand.
All the same, rather than berating the temptations of the always-on lifestyle, it’s strange that so few writers, and readers, seem ready simply to switch off the Wi-Fi, thus saving battery life and insulating themselves against viruses. Why not take off to the Great Outdoors with just your trusty tablet or netbook and a solar charger or extra battery for company? Or perhaps that fatal inability to reach for the off switch is also part of the digital malaise…