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Welcome to the machine

2011-05-16 07:00
Recently, a trending topic on Twitter caught my eye: “#RIPtypewiters”.

Closer inspection of various links confirmed my worst suspicions: according to reports, the last typewriter manufacturer had closed its doors. It was a company called Godrej and Boyce, and they had been based in Mumbai, India.

“We don’t get a lot of orders any more,” the owner of the Mumbai company was quoted as saying.

Though later reports refuted the literal truth of this story – apparently, a few typewriter factories are still operational in China, Japan and Indonesia – there is no doubt that the manual typewriter, as an invention, is in the twilight of its existence on this planet. Having reached its heyday in 1953, it was slowly replaced, first by electric typewriters, and then by personal computers and other communication devices.


Nothing less than a tsunami of nostalgia was evoked when the news was announced. I must confess that I myself felt like wiping away a stray tear from my cheek.

For few other defunct feats of technology inspire the same kind of emotion as the typewriter. Does anyone mourn the death of pagers (those horridly irritating square little devices people used to wear on their belts, infinitely more intrusive than mobile phones)? Why is nobody heartbroken about old-fashioned video camera’s or Walkmans? Do we really miss Polaroid photographs, CB radio’s or floppy discs?

The typewriter, we realize now, was infinitely more than just a huge thing that stood on top of peoples’ desks, produced readable symbols on paper, made clackety noises (with the occasional little bell at the end of each line), and blackened typists’ fingers. It was the Grecian Urn of twentieth-century industry. It inspired novels (who will ever forget the eerie erotic typewriter images in The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs?) and movies (can anyone recall that last scene in La Dolce Vita?), it was imbued with sentiment and romance. Is it possible to think of Joseph Heller, Aldous Huxley or Hunter S. Thompson without thinking of their typewriters? Would Kerouac have been Kerouac had he been forced to write his novels on a laptop?

Cowboys and spaceships

So, while the rumour that the last typewriting factory had closed its doors may not be factually true, without a doubt the time has come to bid this device farewell. Farewell, all those ancient Remingtons, those Underwoods, those Royals. Goodbye to you my trusted friend, we’ve known each other since we were nine or ten…

Yes, indeed. For it was at the tender age of nine (1963, coinciding with the birth of the Beatles) that I happened to type my first full-length novel on my dad’s machine, sitting on top of a heap of cushions on the chair in his study so that I could reach the keys. I can’t remember what the title of that first novel was. The story, I recall, was full of cowboys, space-ships and evil monsters. Without a doubt, it was also full of spelling errors. Which was probably why it was never critically acclaimed or recognized by the world (I still remember my utter shock and disbelief when my older brother destroyed the manuscript).

Be that as it may. The typewriter is dead; long live the typewriter. For as long as this grand old machine is alive in our memories, it will remain a symbol of man’s finest achievements, right up there with the Sputnik, the 8mm film projector, and the delay pedal.

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