Time travel

by | Aug 25, 2010 | Olympia | 9 comments


  1. deek

    A $10 SG1…amazing, I tell you. I spent ten times that on mine, but I digress.

    I like your conclusion. At the time, typewriters were the models of writing efficiency. Its interesting what we find from the past to hang onto or re-incorporate into our "nows".

    I wonder what mundane object I take for granted today, that in 20 years people will look at and and collect or use as their retro tech.

    Fashion has cycles where old stuff becomes new again. Technology does, in a way, but more in the concepts than the hardware (I'm thinking about thin clients attached to mainframes in the 60s and 70s coming full circle to cloud computing models which make thin clients a viable option.).

  2. Richard P

    Maybe the iPhone will be a cool retro gadget in 2030 — if it's still working!

    One thing I like about the great typewriters is that they were made to last for decades, whereas our electronics are all about planned obsolescence and disposability.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. deek

    I'm thinking something more along the lines of calculator or maybe a camera (more generally, something that produces pictures).

    Who knows?

  4. Mike

    Richard, is the SG-1 your favorite typer? If not, which machine holds that title?

  5. Michael

    Richard, thank you for your insights. My first recent typewriter was to replace one I had in the '70s which was stolen.(!). It turns out, though, that it is not feeding my nostalgia but rather strengthening my appreciation and admiration for the engineers and designers who understood their arts, for the corporate heads and even the bean-counters who understood that the way to make their proud marks on society was to produce quality goods, and for the buyers who supported them. (We were not called "consumers"–ghastly title–then.) Your last line is right on; "hidden in the interstices" indeed.

    I have similar feelings about other technologies that I am deeply familiar with, too: cameras, yes, and bicycles and coffeemakers and others. They are all tools, yes, but the good ones are timeless and make us feel good about our civilization. Efficiency for its own sake is overrated; appropriate technology–approtech?–is more sensible. I am glad there are some people who realize this and blog about it. Thanks.

    == Michael

  6. Richard P

    Mike: I actually don't know which typer is my favorite. Frankly, I'm still searching for the ideal — it's part of what motivates the ongoing hunt. This blog will feature some of the typewriters that I keep in rotation for actual use (of course there are others that I love for their weirdness, but not to type on). In addition to the ones I've shown, I expect I'll be using a Voss, a '30s Smith-Corona portable, a Groma Kolibri, several Olympia portables, a Royal KMM … boy, there are a lot that are enjoyable to use. My sentimental favorite is still my first, a Remington Noiseless Portable #7.

    The SG1 is a great engineering achievement and I enjoy typing on it, but the carriage is a little too heavy. It slides super-smoothly, but the sheer momentum of it makes my typing table shake. It feels like overkill.

    Michael: I like your concept of approtech. Part of what I seem to be doing in this blog is searching for a more appropriate relationship to computer technology. I confess to being addicted to computers, but often feel restless and have ascetic fantasies of pulling the plug and going off the grid. That's probably not going to happen!

    By the way, the New York Times is running an interesting and sometimes disturbing series about "your brain on computers."

  7. rino breebaart

    Nice article – I like the intertwining of nostalgia and technology angle you take. I think it was Brian Eno who said that as soon as a particular technology has been replaced or superceded (eg valve amplifiers, grainy Super-8) then it takes on retro-cool and a certain immediacy. It's effect changes.

    You can also see it in the bands who take on a deliberate lo-fi aesthetic, like recording and distributing their music on cassettes. I think this is an ongoing conversation we have with our technology, and how we define ourselves with and through it. Yesterday's merely efficient tools are tomorrow's collectable antiques. Nothing's changed but the perceived value.

    That said, I live typewriters because they do one thing VERY well, consistently; and the physical act of using and composing on them is different, more interesting. Nowadays an efficient tool like a laptop or iPad is expected to do a whole range of tasks, with all the update and version problems that presents. I've got a bad feeling the OS and interface will soon be lost and forgotten just like the Amiga and all those old systems. New gadgets and must-haves are always intruding…


    I still miss my aqua OLIVETTI LETTERA 32 (used at UVA for all my English papers and my senior honors thesis…memories…) which I think I sold at a garage sale many years ago–I was very in need of cash, I remember. I want to buy one again, but need the wonderful aqua case as I had before. Thanks, Richard, for keeping the flames burning for these wonderful objects of art. :) Type on! Joanie Ballard http://www.virginialiving.com/topics/joanie_ballard/blogentry

  9. Michael

    Richard, I have made my living on computers for the last 33 years. For much of that time I was wildly enthusiastic, but no longer. Part of it is just becoming jaded; I've seen several universe-changing developments come and go and now it's just, "Yeah, yeah."

    A bigger factor has been the transition along the same lines we just now decried with typewriters and those other technologies as the '60s wore on. The innovations have peaked and now it's mostly cheapening and marketing as the producers try to maintain growth and live for the stockholders rather than the customers. Takes the fun out of it. Can't admire them.

    The most striking factor, though, has been Apple's abandoning of great design, particularly in software, in favor of–what?, change for change's sake? Change for the splash effect? When they deliberately cripple their products and discard superb interface designs that they already had … Takes all the fun out of it.

    Now I just use them as tools (professionally, my wife and I design books). They will not live on as the mechanical things have done. Without the software, they are not even pretty (most of 'em) and with the software, they are boring. (Although, riddle me this: why is MS Word 5 so much more respected than Word 2010, which to judge from the numbers, ought to be 402 times better?)

    Anyway, the computers are undeniably powerful and useful. Maybe they're too abstract for people like you and me. I do see a strong _joie de vivre_ among the members of the typewriter and portable typewriter forums. We're on to something.

    == Michael


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