What legacy technologies teach us about productivity, design and creativity
In a bustling Portobello Market, I extend an inquisitive finger and firmly depress the individually framed letter ‘A’. A hammer springs immediately into action, surging forward and ‘thwacking’ its centre place upon the inert ribbon of a 1912 Corona No.3 typewriter. How fulfilling!
Like the Walkman, VHS and PC are destined to be, the typewriter, to most, is a forgotten and mysterious machine consisting of clunky mechanical levers and messy ink ribbons. Nowadays, it is found mainly in dramatic movie close-ups and used as theatrical shop decor to represent something worth saying. But beyond the QWERTY keyboard legacy we are left with, this classic icon of simplicity and discipline still has a place in today’s connected world of hashtags and trends. Here are some reasons why:
The typewriter is a piece of equipment dedicated to the sole purpose of writing. As modern device manufacturers scramble to compete with one another, multiscreen functionality and over-populated interfaces offer connectivity and features that often distract more than enhance. Creativity loves constraints; the sheer absence of a screen interface forces you to turn inward, and while this may be a drastic departure for some, a similarly filtered approach can be found in apps and devices designed with this in mind.
There is no delete key. Every word matters! Although iterations are vital to evolve any idea, an imaginary world of infinite second chances is misleading and can hinder progress. The initial blank sheet stage is often the most intimidating hurdle for any new idea to overcome. Encouraging the decisiveness to hammer out that complete yet imperfect first draft can be invaluable for ideas to take form.
Let’s face it, hearing the ‘thwack’ and feeling the satisfying ‘ding’ to celebrate the end of every line is rewardingly theatrical when compared to the grey plod of plastic keys, or the empty nudge of a touchscreen.
Design is psychological as well as functional and aesthetic. How and why we say something is sometimes as important as what we say. This explains why printed books have remained relevant, and in some cases gained a luxury status over the vast offerings of unread free e-books. A one-off sheet of individually-stamped letters, which are immune from copy and paste, shares the same exclusivity and investment of a tangible hand-written note.
While a literal resurgence of typewriters is unlikely, the timeless principles behind it, and other legacy technologies remind us to ‘learn and understand the rules, and then break them’. Ideas and companies which survive redefining transitions are typically able to focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what they do, instead of just ‘what’. These include transitions from typewriter to PC to tablet, from river to railway to aeroplane, and from horse to automobile and eventually, driverless electric vehicle.
But for those who are not quite ready to bid farewell to the creative romance of the typewriter, while yearning the modern convenience of ‘backspace’, here are three options:
01. Hanx Writer iPad App
The current App Store hit, ‘Hanx Writer’, conveniently converts your iPad into a virtual typewriter complete with entertaining graphics and sound effects. Additional models are available via in-app purchases.
02. USB Typewriters
A premium tactile option, ‘USBTypewriter’ offers fully custom converted units in addition to DIY conversion kits to up-cycle manual machines to become digital peripherals.
For a more forgiving option closer to home, the recently Kickstarter-funded ‘QwerkyWriter’ is a typewriter inspired USB/Bluetooth keyboard entirely purpose-designed and manufactured.
03. Ebay/ Various Markets
For the truly dedicated and adventurous among us, nothing beats acquiring an authentic antique machine. With characteristic aluminium chassis, stylish logotypes and unique sounding mechanisms, these can be found at a spontaneous premium at various markets in varying conditions, or at a fraction of the price on eBay.
Ultimately, a typewriter or any such device serves only as a technological platform to share ideas. Regardless of what we use, it only really matters if the idea we communicate is worth spreading.
Image from: http://typewriterdatabase.com/1941-remington-streamliner.2391.typewriter
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