When our two young grandsons come to visit, they’re mesmerized by a technological wonder. It sits moot – compact, yet possessing deceptive heft – on the floor of my home office.
There’s no video display to be found on it. No on/off switch, wires, cables, blinking lights or digital components of any type.
To a small child, it must look a bit imposing – a steely constellation of metal levers, a sort of black rolling pin seated along its top, and curious levels of circular plates on which the alphabet appears, although strangely out of sequence.
The name LC Smith appears ostentatiously bold, printed on a top-mounted shield-like metal strip. The little lettered or numbered discs running in five tiers seem to beckon tiny fingers, eager with nervous energy and boundless curiosity to tap on them, like hammering plastic nails on a toy work bench.
Then there are those two funny little spools connected by a ribbon, looking a little like a miniature version of an old reel-to-reel tape recorder.
The click-clack sound seems to hold special attraction. As if something important is being accomplished, and everyone should hear about it. And there’s the added charm of that roller (aka platen) hopping to the left with each plunge of a key, from which there are so many to choose, mounted on a maze of scaffolding.
Then you get to swat this long metal arm that repositions things for another attack – after hearing a “ding!” that sounds like you’re checking in at a motel front desk.
But wait, boys – watch this! I feed a sheet of paper into its maw, and now a letter or number stamps itself in dark contrast onto the white paper each time one of the lettered or numbered disks is depressed. No flickering video display. No blinking cursor. Not a pixel to be found. Just fuzzy black ink hammered with a decisive clank right onto the porous paper.
This, I try to explain, is a cool typewriter. A once state-of-the-art gadget on which people wrote love letters, news stories and all manner of other correspondence.
About a year ago, the New York Times ran a feature story about how today’s younger folks – college students, mainly – are flocking to special venues where rows of typewriters line tables and provide the Internet/video generation the chance to see – but more importantly hear – what it used to be like back in the day. The sound of anachronism can be intoxicating.
They’re discovering something almost primal about writing this way, as the world did for so many years after the machine’s invention in the 1860s. There’s something enticing about the raw, tactile, simple nature of using a typewriter – a manual one at that.
Committing words to paper in so direct a fashion seems pure and unpretentious. Push down on keys and stamp your statement immediately on the final printed page. No need to select “print” here. Typing and printing are one in the same.
Word processing is far too effective and efficient to ever revert to the typewriter, of course. The old guard – Remington, Underwood, Royal, Olivetti – has long been replaced by Apple, IBM and a high-tech legion of others. But don’t tell that to my grandkids. Oh, they still like Google, YouTube and computer games. But the old LC Smith, circa early 1900s, is right there alongside the modern stuff. And click-clack drowns out hissing electrons any old day.