I recently watched a documentary called California Typewriters and I must say, I found it fascinating. It was one of those documentaries you get drawn into and watch in its entirety. You don’t even want to check your mobile device for any messages in case you miss something really important, a tidbit of information you didn’t know that may even change your life! Sometimes, all it takes is one sentence someone says and the penny drops. I know the penny dropped for me.
That’s how excellent this documentary was!
I remember the clicking sound of various typewriters in grade school, high school, offices and in many places in my travels during my youth. The sound of keys hitting the paper was a sound I never forgot. It meant something to me. It was a serious sound and to the person typing the letter, it was private information not to be disclosed except to the recipient. There was no peeking over a shoulder either, that was forbidden.
Another observation was that the person typing seemed to be in another world, not multi-tasking like we do today. She was usually focused at the task at hand and it had to be completed. The look on her face was do not disturb and you waited.
Grammarly and spellcheck didn’t exist and the people that typed were educated in proper, precise grammar and spelling. No shortcuts! Sentences were typed with the correct punctuation, the layout and margins were carefully aligned and when the document was removed from the typewriter, it was a masterpiece! At least that was my memory of a typewriter, its function and how people used them.
A few points in the documentary are well worth thinking about. First of all, using a typewriter encourages the process of creativity. Thoughts and words flow, there is a certain sound the keys make when they hit the paper. They smack the paper. The ink is “stamping” your thoughts and words onto a surface. This is ultimate privacy. The information belongs only to you unless you want to share it, your information isn’t stored in a hard drive...have you ever retrieved information from a hard drive? Exactly! Typewritten paper can be compiled and saved in a bundle and stored in a safe and secret place in your home. Stacks of paper are bound or stuffed inside a journal. You want inspiration? Go back to your notes. You’ll be amazed! This was my process before the computer, I still have notes in a folder or tied with a ribbon and I know where all my hopes, dreams and disasters are stored. To me, the typewriter is like a secret friend that knows your most creative thoughts and sometimes your deepest and darkest secrets.
I own two typewriters, an Underwood from the 1940’s and a compact Remington used in WWII by a war correspondent. The Remington was gifted to me by a wonderful woman whose uncle was a Canadian journalist working overseas during the war. It is a very special little typewriter. If those keys could talk! What would they say?
What would the Smith Corona from the 1960’s reveal? Just the design of these machines reflect massive social change and the revolutionary times that were sweeping society. There are some very sexy-looking Smith Coronas out there!
While we still rely heavily on our computers, there is a simplicity about a manual machine and the intimacy that technology will never match. I think the difference between the digital and analogue worlds is that digital technology keeps calling you while a typewriter waits for you and your muse to appear.