by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Joe Queenan reviews for Barron’s a new book that sings the praises of that cutting-edge piece of technology known as the typewriter.
Xavier University philosophy professor Richard Polt owns roughly 300 such machines, but that’s hardly remarkable. Hobbyists and collectors become obsessed with knowing an awful lot about things that aren’t terribly important—old watches, old radios, old guitars—while other people have kids and repair collapsed highways and work on a cure for Alzheimer’s.
Polt argues that we still need the machines that the personal computer deposed three decades ago, and not just to type addresses on envelopes or fill out forms. No, without typewriters in our daily lives, our lives are greatly diminished, he argues. Typewriters do not gobble up electricity. Typewriters are the enemy of illiterates and slobs; they don’t have spell-checker. Most important, typewriters make us stop and smell the roses.
The word “revolution” is pivotal because the good professor’s obsession with an archaic technology stems from a kind of Occupy Wall Street repudiation of the world we live in. “The Typewriter Revolution,” he writes, “defiantly resists technological conformity, the totalitarian information-processing worldview, and the destructive assumption that all human activity should be judged by the test of efficiency. These threats are real, and a typewriter is a weapon against them.”
Thus, the typewriter, once a weapon of the right—the business community—is now a mighty arm of the left. “This machine kills fascists” could be the rallying cry. Well, it wounds them.
Polt maintains that using a typewriter makes you a better writer because you must think carefully before committing words to the page. Maybe. But it could also be argued that the very act of committing words to the page makes the writer reluctant to change anything because he then must toss the original document and start from scratch.
A beautiful book, with lots of lovely photos and cartoons, The Typewriter Revolution is strange, funny, but ultimately nutty.
As are many Luddites.