Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'A permanent trail of imagination...'

Exciting news here for us retroprogressives, as the clacking of manual typewriters is heard again in the newsroom of The Times (where, sadly, it seems to be causing more bemusement than anything). I guess there must be many working in newspapers now who have never heard the sound, let alone used a manual typewriter - and if they did, they'd probably wonder how anyone ever managed to bash out a story with such a cumbersome machine. But for some, the manual typewriter still has a certain inky allure - not least Tom Hanks, who has even developed an app that gives the illusion of writing with an old-fashioned typewriter. Typing with a manual, he says, 'stamps into paper a permanent trail of imagination through keys, hammers, cloth and dye' - an eloquent expression of what is special about manual typing. It is closer to a craft process than the frictionless, resistance-free electronic transaction that is 'typing' with a modern computer keyboard - writing in cyberspace rather than on paper.
 It is surely true that the sheer cumbersomeness of manual typing and the difficulty of rewriting encouraged forethought, care and brevity, whereas the ease of the modern keyboard encourages the reverse - get it all down any old how, knock it into shape afterwards, and if it's too long, well, it's too long. The endless stories on the BBC News website (and many others) are classic products of keyboard writing - as, I suspect, are many overlong works of contemporary fiction. The modern keyboard has made writing too easy.  


  1. Perhaps the Guardian should respond by piping in the sound of feathers scratching on papyrus in their newsroom. If it's forethought, care and brevity you're encouraging, you can't beat that. And talk about an inky allure! :-)

  2. Ho ho - or maybe the tinkling of hammer on chisel on stone...

  3. Indeed. That's the great thing about retroprogressivism, Nige. There's nobody around to tell you when to stop.