Saturday, April 28, 2018

Less power, more control: why typewriters still matter

Many, maybe most, of our young adults here are not very happy. While there may be a correlation between screen time and our younguns' restlessness, causation is a big leap.

Lifted off the net and originally from "Decreases in Psychological Well-Being Among American Adolescents After 2012 and Links to Screen Time During the Rise of Smartphone Technology," Emotion, Jan 22 , 2018
My lambs are fascinated by the classroom typewriter, a machine I picked up off a street in our neighborhood, tossed out after its owner died, along with a case holding her bowling ball and bowling shoes. A copy of her scores from one of her last matches was still in the case.

It's personal. And it still works.

When a child first sees it, she is often mystified. How does it work?

It's fun to watch a child touch a typewriter key--typewriting is an act of force, you do the work, and the keys are designed to let your finger do what fingers do. Touch, feel, react.

The first push of the key is too soft. Typing requires work, force times distance. Children are used to the machine doing the work--a simple touch, the machine negotiates the rest. A typewriter requires more, and the more it requires reminds us we're mammals.

 A type bar rises from the orderly phalanx the to the paper, hesitates, then falls back into the ranks.

She did not push far enough.

She tries again, pushing the key gently, watches the type bar arc gracefully towards the paper, barely kissing the page, leaving, maybe, a hint of a shadow.

Frustrated, she hits the key a bit harder next time, and the type bar flies towards the paper. *Clack* The sound both startles and pleases her.

And there it is, an imperfect letter, a thought transiently incarnate, now permanently etched on paper.

Hers.
Found on the class typewriter, written by one of my students.

Less power--no one can see it unless she shares it.
More control--no one can see it unless she shares it.
***

Dear child,
Google has read every love letter you sent to the boy.
Google has saved every word worthy enough for her.
Your machine breaks down, the letter remains.
***

When you write on a typewriter, you choose the paper. You choose the force of each letter, its place on the paper, but not much else.

You cannot choose the font, the pica, the colors.
You cannot add photos or gifs or links to cute memes.
You cannot make thousands of copies, or even just a few.
You cannot share it with millions of people you do not know.


But you can draw a doodle on it, a doodle never seen before. You can scent it with vanilla (or citrus or madeleines, if you are clever.)

And you can hold it for a lifetime, or give it to someone else who cares enough to do the same, tucked in a shoe box in an attic somewhere, to be found long after both of you are dead.

No doubt our words carry more power now, thanks to our techno-universes.

Craving the power, we cede the control.



This started out as a letter to Jonathan Rochelle, who I got to see talk last week at IgniteSTEM2018. He gets it, even when immersed in it.
 I haven't finished the letter.

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