Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Slowing Down Type: A Return to the Keys

By Muriel Hoffacker
Gordon College News Service
January 20, 2010

Next to the covered window of Katharine and Daniel Worth Larsen’s home in Gloucester, MA, sits an elegant typewriter, a curled, thin sheet of paper tucked above its keys.  Others like it are gently placed in the small, dimly lit living room.

The typewriters are not mere showpieces for Katharine, 34, and Daniel Worth Larsen, 31; they use them. Often, Katharine, manager of Walker Creek Furniture in Essex, MA, and Daniel, case manager at Salem Hospital, say the typewriters help them slow down and take the time to organize their thoughts as they type, aware of the mistakes their old machines will make.


“The typed lines are messed up, and each one is different,” said Katharine, “but that’s the beauty of it. Like art, beauty is not always perfect.”

The Worth Larsens are part of a growing number of young professionals who share a common passion for typewriters. They are not revolting against the gadgets and gizmos of our digital age, but rather slowing down for the satisfaction of creating art through an appreciation of time and simplicity.

One of the seven typewriters Katharine and Daniel own is a jet-black Underwood.  The Underwood typewriter, introduced in 1901, maintained its integrity and stayed on the market for 30 years. Daniel has found their collection at thrift stores, flea markets or on the side of the road.  His marble-plated, finely tuned clickity-clacking Underwood cost about $20.

When the couple decided to get married nearly four years ago, they recruited a team of typewriter-enthusiast friends to help hammer away at personalized wedding invitations.

“What a perfect way to say, ‘we want you here,’” said Katharine.  “There’s a romance that we appreciate with the typewriters,” Daniel added.

Daniel Lynch, 24, an activist and writer from Westford, MA, who now attends graduate school in Chicago, IL, uses a 1950s and 1970s typewriter for what he calls an “appreciation of the process of creative activity.”

Lynch prefers typewriters for the direct access to the material. “There is no abstraction; the paper you insert and the keys you press are the reality of your creative process,” Lynch said.

Still, Katharine, Daniel and Lynch admit they cannot survive living in a technology-driven society using only a typewriter. 

“I have a Facebook account, I confess,” said Katharine. “It’s more realistic to keep in touch visually with people that way.”

Chuck Dilts, typewriter historian and co-editor of ETCetera in Southboro, MA, suggests typewriter users slow down for fewer distractions. “It’s really easy to minimize your work (on a computer) and start playing poker or watch Youtube.”
He says a typewriter is so basic it doesn’t have these other distractions.

Dilts noted that young people in 2010 are often moving too fast with technology and missing the advantage typewriters can offer.

“There aren’t distractions when using a typewriter . . . more things can get done,” said Dilts, “When people aren’t distracted (by computer programs), they may actually save time.”

Though the Worth Larsens and Lynch aren’t consumed by the technology of many of their peers, they do worry about its effects on interpersonal communication.

“All of a sudden it seems like an appendage,” Katharine remarked. “Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we need to forget our manners.”

Besides, the extra time spent using typewriters allows users like the Worth Larsens and Lynch to live in the present rather than “save-as” for the future. 

“People are never where they are.  It’s as if they’re never experiencing anything because they’re constantly recording it for later,” she said,  “That’s why I love the old machines; they make you slow down.”

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