Regardless of whatever small amount of life force it had previously clung to, the typewriter is now dead. What was once the chosen production machine for journalists and writers is now nothing but an antiquesomething you might have crammed away in a basement or attic, which your kids will wonder about if you ever decide to drag it out again.
The only company in the world that manufactured brand new typewriters into the 21st century, Godrej and Boyce (in India), recently closed its doors, and is now attempting to sell off the last 200 typewriters that they produced. This means that all the working typewriters on the planet are the last of their kind. The human race has all the typewriters it will ever have.
It was going to happen eventually. Unlike the vinyl record player, another supposedly dead technology that still manages to hang on, the typewriter was doomed by the invention of computers and word processing software. Vinyl records are still produced, as their sound-quality, when compared to that of a CD, is still endlessly debated by audiophiles; however, the typewriter is an infinitely inferior deviceone that doesn’t have a backspace function, breaks often, and the ribbon needs constant reloading. Typewriters’ problems far outweigh their benefits. Today, if you write anything that isn’t a letter on a typewriter, you will doom it to being un-publishedas the piece will have to be entirely retyped into a computer anyway. Journalism long lost its need for typewriters, and anyone who tries to write the next great Canadian novel on typewriter will soon find themselves with a manuscript that’s riddled to death with typos and x’d out passages, and which will be impossible to revise without entirely rewriting the piece…perfectly. The death of the typewriter is probably a good thing, and it’s shocking that it didn’t happen sooner.
Yet, it is still sad to hear of the typewriter’s downfall.
Maybe it’s the writer in me, but the idea of a lone writer hammering out a physical piece of writing long into the night still has an air of romance about it. An air of romance that typing on one’s MacBook doesn’t reproduce. When you think back on many of the classic pieces of literature written in the last 200 years, chances are that most of those were written using a typewriter. Most famously, Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in one sitting by feeding a long scroll of paper through his typewriter, allowing him to stay at his desk and waste no time fetching more paper. This resulted in a 120-foot long single-spaced paragraph which Truman Capote criticized by saying, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.” You can even look up what exact typewriter model writers like Ernest Hemingway, Chuck Bukowski, and Hunter S. Thompson wrote their masterpieces on, giving even the device that they used to punch out their works an air of originality.
Another sad fact about the demise of the typewriter has to do with the drawbacks that it presented as a formatdrawbacks that could be considered positives if viewed a certain way. The lack of a backspace function would strike most users as a flaw that cannot be forgiven, but think about it like this: without a backspace function, you have to feel and look ahead to what you are writing next, to know what you are committing to the page well enough that you won’t suddenly glance at what you’ve just etched into the page and realize you’ve just wasted that entire page. In addition, the typewriter’s feeling of constantly pressing forward with a work of writingknowing that you are unable to go backis something that most writers might find enduring, or at least useful. There’s no way out but through.
In addition, the lack of a backspace function demands that the author have certain knowledge of the English language that is certainly missing from most printed (not published) work these days. Having a dictionary within easy reach would be a necessity if you had to leave the warm embrace of spell-check. Not being able to easily revise paragraphs may seem archaic to writers of today, but think about itwithout the convenience of a word processor, you would want to be damn sure you knew how to craft the living hell out of paragraphs.
Even at its most base level, the typewriter has some qualities that should be missed. Instead of making a work of writing that is nothing but a digital file, you would instead have a work of writing that you can see spill out onto the page letter by letter. There’s an appeal to physically creating something tangible that you can hold in your hand. This doesn’t apply so much to journalism, but journalism is an industry that has changed with technology.
In the end, if you disregard the obvious technical benefits, that is what probably doomed the typewriter. The act of writing literary fiction or genre fiction or your next novella or a short story always comes down to the writer and the page, regardless of technological format. You could write the next great novel on the backs of napkins and beer coasters; it doesn’t matter, the writing is what will stand out overallnot what you wrote it on.
Still, it’s sad to see such a workhorse like the typewriter ride off into the sunset. And while you can still buy ink ribbons for typewriter at stores, those days will soon be gone too, handing whatever typewritters still in use an inevitable death sentence.
So, if you find an old typewriter kicking around somewhere, grab it. It’s a big, heavy chunk in the history of the printed wordsomething worth remembering, even after the last ding of the return bar.
One of the only major writers to still use a typewriter is Cormac McCarthy. He writes all of his manuscripts on a 1963 Olivetti Letteran 32. He eventually sold it to charity for a considerable sum, and, instead of upgrading to a computer, bought a replacement Letteran 32 for $20.