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Despite others, I’m still in love with my computer

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Column by David B. Whitlock

Maybe it’s a part of the yearning for a slower, simpler world, a less digitized world when others — including the National Security Agency — didn’t have instant access to our privacy. Or perhaps it’s more a desire to touch and embrace an older vehicle for communicating.

It could be both.

I’m referring to the return of the typewriter.

Even high school students are learning the joys and frustrations of tap tap tapping away on what many consider an anachronistic way of communicating.

Ryan Adney, a high school English teacher, has his students doing almost all their writing on typewriters these days. In an interview with NBC’s Stephanie Gosk, Adney said 20 years ago only eccentrics used a typewriter. But that’s changing.

People across the globe are utilizing the typewriter. That would include the high-profile users like Pope Francis I; the famous collectors, like Tom Hanks (he owns 12 of the old machines); and the modern-day enthusiasts, like Mike McGeddigan, who organized a “type-in.” McGeddigan prefers typewriters because they are finely crafted, are not meant to be obsolete, and are intended to do only one thing: type.

It’s the simplicity of that “one thing” that apparently appeals to so many, even among some of the younger generation.

“They help you concentrate more because on a computer there’s other distractions,” said Jessica Duren, one of Adney’s students.

Because typewriters have no backspace, spell check or auto correct, mistakes are more permanent. “You gotta know what you’re gonna say and make sure it makes sense,” said another student, Sonia Aldana.

Adney believes the machines have helped his students improve their writing skills because they have to be more cognizant of their word choices and slowing down has facilitated their creativity, he maintains.

And then the nostalgia of using a typewriter can create enthusiasm for writing: “When you’re sitting at one, you almost feel like you could be like … Ernest Hemingway or Jack Kerouac,” student Matthew Scidoni said.

“Now that’s what I need,” I mused as I read about the return of the typewriter. I pictured myself with my hands on an old Smith-Corona, channeling Jack London or Ray Bradbury as I pecked away.

“The perfect vaccine to any possible invasion of the writer’s block virus,” I thought. “I’ll be perpetually energized.”

But then something woke me to reality and sent me running to hug my beloved laptop: It was the memory of my typewriting class in high school.

I had learned the keyboard with relative ease, but then came the more technical aspect of the course: the correct layout for a business letter, proper form for footnotes, the simple office memo — details I figured I’d never use. Then my guidance counselor informed in a by the way moment that I already had accumulated enough credits to graduate. “Just wondering, why did you add the typing class?” he asked.

Good question. I promptly dropped that first hour typing class and slept an extra hour each day.

A few months later I graduated and merrily went along my way without much use for a typewriter. I had one (an item, along with my 1974 Chevy Camaro, I now wish I had kept) but rarely used it. I wrote in longhand and either had a friend type my research papers or paid a typist. Although I wish I were more proficient on my laptop keyboard, corrections are easily made with a computer.

Granted, the computer invites distractions. Stopping to check email or facebook messages can be deadly to meeting deadlines.  

But the typewriter isn’t the perfect antidote to the problem, at least not for everyone.

Shelby Foote, author of the massive three volume history, The Civil War: A Narrative, refuses to use even a typewriter. In an interview for The Academy of Achievement, Foote said, “I don’t want anything to do with anything mechanical between me and the paper, including a typewriter.”

The clatter of the typewriter and the turning of the drum backward to make corrections is “a kind of interruption” Foote can’t stand. He even refuses to use a fountain pen, opting instead for the old-fashioned dip pen, preferring it for the same reason some like a typewriter: The dip pen forces him to slow down and think before writing each word.

But a pen can be frustrating too. Novelist Stephen King likes to write in longhand. “The only problem,” he says, “is that, once I get jazzed, I can’t keep up with the lines forming in my head and I get frazzled.”

Precisely. King’s problem reminded me why I started using the laptop in the first place. And that brings me back to my love affair with my writer-friendly computer, to whom I pledge my everlasting loyalty.

At least until a more efficient writing companion comes along.

David B. Whitlock is a Baptist minister, author and educator. He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.