The Eternal Allure of the Typewriter

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The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums2001, Wes Anderson

Presenting a nostalgic new series, in which we reflect upon a time-honoured object or tradition that has become displaced in the digital age. First: we consider the click-clackingly chic typewriter

In the grand timeline of written communication, the moment of the typewriter will flash by somewhere between papyrus and WhatsApp, a nanosecond chink in our quest to find the most efficient way to disseminate our thoughts.

Alas, the typewriter may be fast disappearing as a writing implement, but these compact click-clacking machines will forever represent a bridge between the simplicity of pen and paper and the dawn of the sophisticated digital age, with its copy and paste functions and internet windows of procastinatory potential. Remember that on a typewriter, there is nothing to do but type.

Typewriter nostalgia, though, cannot only be ascribed to the notion that they offer a more focused modus operandi (although, take that mindfulness). There’s also the glamour which attaches to objects on the cusp of being from a bygone age, especially when they're championed by style-setting creative luminaries such as Joan Didion or Gloria Steinem. 

Take the image of smoulderingly handsome Marlon Brando sans leather jacket reclining with a cat draped over his shoulder as he types at his favourite Royal de Luxe, or Marilyn Monroe sat on a zebra-printed chair, bare-legged, with coordinating scarlett sweater, lips and nails and a diminutive black typewriter on her lap. Then there’s a solemn, fresh-faced Sylvia Plath settled on a sun lounger, focused on her Olivetti Lettera 22. It simply wouldn’t be the same with an iPad. Although who knows, half a century from now?

In Joe Wright’s 2007 film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement — which won an Oscar for Best Original Score — the urgent winding on and deafening bish-bash of Robbie’s typewriter becomes a defining motif. There is wonderful drama as the screen fills with the key decisively imprinting inked letters onto crisp new letter paper, accompanied by the rousing opera of La Bohème. Of course, for anyone who knows the plot, it’s the teasing impossibility of deleting a typewritten message which comes to form the crux of this tragic tale. The power of it!

So, no deleting, no dilly-dallying. Just elegant hours of filling endless reams of paper with meaning, be it profound or perfunctory. There is hope yet for the typewriter then. Actor Tom Hanks, an avid collector, is collating a soon-to-be-published selection of odes to the typewriter while aficionados the world over still amass typewriters and their accompanying trinkets with verve; if you’re nonplussed about the machines, acquaint yourself with the work-of-art ribbon tins. Finally, on Instagram — that most modern of platforms —  #typewriterpoetry is truly alive and well. 

Suggested reading: The Death of The Typewriter?