Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Everything Old Is New Again

Yep, it says here that someone has figured out a way to connect a manual typewriter to a computer, Ipad, smart phone, smart refrigerator (saw an ad for one with internet browsing capabilities--wonder if it tells you when the salad dressing needs to be thrown out) or what have you.  It's called a "USB Typewriter" and you can read all about it at http://www.usbtypewriter.com/. It's a kit requiring the electronic skill of a rocket scientist as nearly as I can tell that allows the connection of the manual typewriter to a "USB device" which sounds like a form of birth control but isn't. The guy who invented it says this about it:

"The USBTypewriter™ is a new and groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence.  Lovers of the look, feel, and quality of old fashioned manual typewriters can now use them as keyboards for any USB-capable computer, such as a PC, Mac, or even iPad!  The modification is easy to install, it involves no messy wiring, and does not change the outward appearance of the typewriter (except for the usb adapter itself, which is mounted in the rear of the machine).  So the end result is a retro-style USB keyboard that not only looks great, but feels great to use."

I like his feel for oxymoron,  and the demo video features the sweet sound of keys clattering and the return bell ringing. (Those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, ask your momma.) You can install the kit on your own typewriter, or you can buy one that's ready to go for about $850.

I would like to say, Only in America.  I am in awe of Jack Zylkin, not only for his technological prowess but also for coupling a form of technology with the machine that replaced it. It would be like pulling a car with a horse or putting piston engines on a 747 (that idea wouldn't fly, ar, ar) or retrofitting a microwave with a heating element. In the case of the USB Typewriter, there's a certain aesthetic experience to be gained.  Looking at a horse's rear end from your infinitely adjustable leather driver's seat would never be an aesthetic experience unless you were smitten by horses.  And their rear ends.

I remember our first typewriter that my dad brought home when I was about ten.  It was a giant Underwood that I could barely lift, but I immediately set to work making a newsletter for the neighborhood. I used it to hunt and peck papers for school. When I went to college I bought a reconditioned Royal portable that I still have. It's entirely made of metal which I think is amazing.  We later on bought an electric SC that Becky mostly used, and I used the IBM Selectric at church to do the church newsletter for a while.  I thought the Selectric was the ultimate writing machine.  Then computers came along.

I have to say that I would not like to go back to using a typewriter to write with. When computers came along I taught myself to type but I am still really bad at it.  I remember wrestling with correction fluid or using that horrid erasable typing paper and  running out of space for a footnote and having to retype the entire page. (By the way, the word processer killed the footnote and gave us the endnote. I don't think anyone mourned for a second, not even the MLA. It also put an end to the typing pool but I'll leave that one to the sociologists to comment on.) And computers can do so much more than the humble typewriter, USB or not. I'm sure, in fact, that one could be set up so that the keys click and a return bell rings with a hard return.

So, while I salute the inventor of the USB Typewriter, I don't think I will be using one any time soon.There have been too many erasures and strikeovers to go back. While I have a hate/hate relationship with my computer printer, it's still better than having to use Corrasable Bond.


  1. When I first read about this, I had this fleeting moment of wanting to hammer out something, anything, (just for the sound of it) on my old '20s era Royal (that belonged to my uncle, who was killed in the war, and lives on in my middle name... but the more I thought about it, the more I'm inclined to see if I can find someone to restore that beautiful shiny-black machine so that I could have the real thing, rather than some imitation font, printed on my irascible printer.

    P.S. I also was beguiled by this typewriter around age 8--and wrote a newsletter..and ultimately all my college term papers..on it. I write more and better now with my easily-correctable, easily-revisable laptop..but I miss the individuality of the type, the sound of accomplishment, the bell at the end of each line.

  2. I hated the dot matrix printers that were available as the first computer printers, that I bought a typewriter printer that had changeable type wheels. It was slow but I always liked the personal look of each letter or document it produced.

  3. Nice stories and comments, Mary and Nick. One of the things I love about writing these are the stories I get to "hear."

  4. We still have an old electric typewriter. I believe that your father gave mine the old manual black typewriter. I used that a time or two. I personally hated my typing class and I am glad that computer keyboards came along. With backspace and delete keys I can easily correct things almost as quickly as I can think it. I also use spell check, but still proofread my documents as form and from are both spelled correctly, but don't necessarily go in the same sentences.