“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
- Anne Lamont (maybe)
“She was dazzling—alight; it was agony to comprehend her beauty in a glance.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups at my table.
The Atlantic just ran a piece on the shuttering of the world’s last typewriter factory.
These end-of-an-era announcements tend to read like coffin nails, but the writing has been on the wall - or more literally on the screen - for years. No doubt there will be plenty of aesthetes and luddites the world over who bemoan its passing, but the typewriter is an empirically inferior writing tool. It’s the stone and chisel, and papyrus is here.
And yet, nearly all of the great works of our modern age were born of these tools. I belong to the first generation that has never had to compose anything on a typewriter, but I can still romanticize the snap of steel hitting paper, the weight of the keys. Is there also something ineffable? What effect do the tools of the trade have on the quality of the product? To work with a stone and chisel requires forethought, commitment; papyrus is more disposable.
Greater tools yield better products, but lesser tools demand more skillful use. Perhaps word processing has made it easier to be a good writer and harder to be a great one. Today we can move words around like soldiers, continually altering the makeup of the platoons until the moment of battle. Typing with ink is a more deliberate process. The physicality of the output demands that the writer hold a steady picture of the universe while placing each individual star.
Maybe. It is nearly impossible to measure the quality of one generation’s writers against those of another, even more so to try and evaluate the effect of machines on the quality of art. Technology should be respected, not feared.
E-readers don’t smell like paper. A book is never more than one book. We accept that the means of consumption effects the reading experience, but we still think of the consumption of literature as an act of the mind; the delivery vehicle is just an aesthetic or functional choice. Writing is certainly a mental exercise, but it is a physical exercise as well. I have no more need of a typewriter than I do a stone tablet, but wonder if I should give it more respect. I could not write as well with ink as I can with pixels, but with practice, could I write better?