My journalistic career began at the beginning of the computer age – at least as far as the Scottish newspaper industry was concerned, which was not one of the forerunners of the digital revolution. If you want a year, let’s go for 1993.
In my first job and since then, I’ve used a computer to write. Various examples came and went. Most of them are incredibly memorable, save for the gum-pink Sunday Herald iMac, which I fought with for a year or two. But the only thing I have never forgotten is what I never used – the manual typewriter that was tucked away on the windowsill next to my desk for my very first job. Who was it? I never found out. But it was there when I arrived in 1993 and there when I left five years later. The building later became a hotel and the wood-paneled section a bar – possibly one with a typewriter still nestled between the whiskey bottles.
I miss this typewriter more and more. Or at least I miss what it represents. We’ve heard a lot about the slow movement over the past decade – slow food, fashion, travel, even reading – and we now understand its various admonitions. Slow down the speed at which you are producing and consuming! Think deeper! Choose more carefully! With COP26 looming, it’s not difficult to band together and see the slow movement as an important part of a proactive response to the climate emergency.
Colleagues with ever tighter deadlines won’t thank me, but isn’t the typewriter the perfect tool to further complement the portfolio of slow movement activities, slow writing? It doesn’t crash and never needs to be recharged. Most importantly, unless you are ready to fall back on rows of XXXs or (yuk) correction fluid to correct your mistakes, think about each word).
When my slow writing movement gets going, it needs a patron or a figurehead. Tom Hanks is the man. The actor has been a typewriter fanatic for many years and owns around 250 machines. In 2017 he published a collection of short stories inspired by this, Uncommon Type. He’s such a huge fan that when he received a typewritten letter from fellow enthusiast Tom Hodges, owner of Typewronger bookstore in Edinburgh, he wrote back. On a typewriter. He called Hodges a “hero” who “keeps typewriters alive”. Typewronger Books, if you haven’t been there before, is also a typewriter cabinet and workshop and well worth a visit.
Of course, the typewriter only looks slow in the context of today’s hectic, connected, social media-obsessed world. As becomes clear in Typewriter Revolution, an exhibition at the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, it was the speed of machines in relation to handwriting that got them from their advent in the mid-19th century. But if we want to slow down and reap the benefits, I think their clack needs a comeback.