Why Do We Still Love Typewriters?

Published Wednesday, November 8, 2023

I have always loved typewriters. From old antiques (circa the dawn of the industrial revolution) viewed in museums, to my mother's army green portable Underwood she used in college. When I was in grade school, she'd let me while away many enjoyable hours experimenting with keys that has to be pressed down a couple inches to make contact with paper, listening for that lovely "ding" that signaled an imminent platen return, amid the heady aroma of old ink and dust-caked oil. I was hooked long before I sat before the quintessential high school learning tool -- the IBM Selectric -- that heavy-duty monster of efficiency which perched atop the desks of high school classrooms and office typing pools across America from the 1960s through '80s. And their thunderous sound! -- get a dozen going and you might believe an invading army was on the march.

While typewriters will never replace the quiet and speedy efficiency of computers in the workplace, they are making a niche comeback with enthusiasts young and old. Why, you may ask? If you haven't enjoyed the experience for yourself, we have a few ways you can get acquainted with our old reliable friends.

California Typewriter: documentary (DVD)

There is no better place to get started with your typewriting journey than the award-winning 2017 documentary California Typewriter, starring celebrity typewriter enthusiasts Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, musician John Mayer, to name a few. Even if you don't write -- or have no desire to go out and purchase a typewriter -- this movie is amazing for its poignant admiration, in so many forms and uses, for the typewriter. This is a human-interest story about the love of the machine. Everyone will get something out of it. Available in DVD format for checkout, or stream it digitally from our Hoopla platform (EPL cardholders).

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The Typewriter in the 21st Century: documentary (DVD)

Another enthusiastic typewriter documentary -- also available in DVD format for checkout, and as a digital download from our Hoopla platform (EPL cardholders), is The Typewriter in the 21st Century. Find out more reasons why the typewriter is not dead!

Author Larry McMurtry, during his acceptance speech at the 2006 Golden Globes after winning Best Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain said, "My typewriter is a Hermes 3000, surely one of the noblest instruments of European genius. And, ladies and gentlemen, can you believe it? It's kept me for 30 years out of the dry embrace of the computer."

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The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist's Companion for the 21st Century, by Richard Polt

I would be remiss if I didn't suggest a few books on the topic of typewriters. A quote from the introduction to The Typewriter Revolution says it all:

"It's not efficient to cook a meal from scratch / It's not efficient to ride a bike down a country path / It's not efficient to learn an instrument instead of downloading a song . . . Why do we do inefficient things? Because sometimes we don't want life to be seamless -- we want to feel resistance, we want to take our time, we want to savor the experience . . . typewriting is one of those intrinsically valuable experiences."

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Typewriter: The History · The Machines · The Writers, by Tony Allan

"Personal computers may have replaced the typewriter in most homes and offices, but the venerable writing machine is currently staging a comeback. From portable models that hipsters are snapping up in Urban Outfitters, to Tom Hanks's bestselling app that recreates the manual experience on a tablet, the typewriter has never been so hot. This celebration of the typewriter covers what a platen knob is, why QUERTY won out over other arrangements of keys, which authors loved (or loathed) their typewriters, and much more." - the publisher

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Uncommon Type: Stories, by Tom Hanks

Speaking of Tom Hanks again (a true typewriter fanatic), he's also written a collection of stories/essays about the magic and charm of typewriters. This is a popular book at the library, so add it to your HOLDs list now!

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About the Author

Cary's idea of a perfect day is a complete stereotype: reading or watching British crime fiction with a cup of hot tea close at hand, her favorite quilt, and her cats Clio & Junie on her lap.