Ultimately, I’ve decided the invention of the typewriter is where I should start; the typewriter was incredibly useful to English majors like me well before the invention of the computer and subsequently, the keyboard and word processor. This choice also fits my approach to writing, because I’m an unfortunate romantic and therefore the idea of clacking away on a typewriter is incredibly appealing to me.
Additionally: I love Tom Hanks, and he loves typewriters**. Clearly I have all the foundation I need.
A quick Google search tells me that a version of the typewriter can be dated back as far as early 1700s, though the image of a typewriter one might conjure more closely resembles the typewriter commercially produced by Christopher Sholes*. Sholes is described as not only a part-time inventor but also a poet and newspaperman. I’m not surprised to discover that the persons behind the invention of a writing tool practiced writing themselves, but it’s kind of nice to know that early poets and journalists contributed more than simply words. Not to say I (a lowly English major) have anything against the contribution of words alone. Did you know the typewriter introduced the QWERTY keyboard? It seems like a pretty standard connection, but I am more and more impressed with this Sholes guy. Not only did he produce an instrumental (pun intended) tool in his field, he also unknowingly created a format that would later be remixed and altered for use in the 21st century. All of these musings about typewriters are being typed onto my very own QWERTY keyboard. I feel like Chris and I are becoming fast friends.
*Darryl Rehr’s informative webpage indicates everything you ever wanted to know and more about Sholes’ invention.
Crazily enough, since deciding to write about the invention of the typewriter, I’ve remembered that my mom once had an antique (or at the very least “not new”) typewriter in her possession. I can distinctly recall viewing the typewriter as an almost forbidden fruit: because the typewriter was a valuable item that carried with it several memories for my mother, she made it an off-limits object. I loved the musicality of the tapping sound the letters made when you pressed on them and I was enthralled by the old-ness of it all. Our first computer was a Windows 95, and despite the fact that the computer’s QWERTY keyboard had huge clunky keys, the format seemed so new in comparison to the mildly dusty typewriter. I remember a strange fascination with the skeletal aspects of the typewriter, the elements that weren’t as sleek or mysterious as perhaps the letters and ribbon, very likely because the ability to see how each keystroke was enacted mirrored one’s ability to see the action of every stroke on the keys of a piano. This somewhat dissected view of the typewriter one-upped that of its modern contemporary: even today I have never seen a keyboard in its skeletal stage.
I’ve gotta be honest with you: the Wikipedia article on the typewriter does not speak highly of Christopher Sholes. Despite the fact that he successfully invented and manufactured the typewriter, according to Wikipedia, he refused to use and/or recommend the device.
One last quirky connection to typewriters and I’ll be done… my favorite movie (with Tom Hanks, of course) includes a running gag about typewriters in it. This may seem contrived, but bear with me! You’ve Got Mail centers around an online relationship that started with a chatroom encounter and lead to more private e-mail exchanges. Meanwhile, in “real life”, Kathleen Kelly is in a relationship with a journalist who is devoted to his typewriter. I’ve always appreciated this movie on an aesthetic level, and it is almost shocking how easily it ties into my career discourse. Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox are both in the book business, and indeed, both of their love interests could have potentially majored in English, being a journalist and book editor, respectively. Additionally, this film exposes the intersection between new technology and methods of writing (AOL e-mail, chat room interactions) and old (electric typewriter, The Observer).
**No, seriously. Tom Hanks really loves typewriters. On August 14th, 2014, Hanks launched a free App called “Hanx Writer”: an app that essentially mimics the classic typewriter experience but with the speed of Apple technology. How cool is it that my very weird MyStory muse had a typewriter trick up his sleeve one year after I’ve ‘completed’ my Career discourse? The entire concept of Hanx Writer is a perfect blend of digital and analog. Can’t wait to try out the App for myself!