Pierce Nettling, a St. Louis native, is a guest blogger from the University of British Columbia
I recently pulled out my parent’s thirty-five year old typewriter in order to teach myself how to write and type. Now you might be dumbfounded at something so ludicrous, but hear me out for a second: while it is true that most of us know how to write or type—how many of us are truly brilliant at it? Can the burgeoning student writer grow as a writer by practicing on a typewriter? I believe we can.
In my first experience with the SCM Smith-Corona manufactured, Coronet Super 12 electric typewriter, I learned that typewriting is an arduous process. Since these old and now museum relics of the past lack what our modern word processor has in the delete button, spell check and online thesauruses—the typewriter requires absolute patience and examination of the words and phrases we otherwise would seemingly take for granted.
On a typewriter one must be concise, precise and error free. Lest we forget about those days when the one fear a university student had, when writing those long and torturous term papers, was the dreaded white ink dot on page 18 of their 25 page term paper. We have it so easy now.
Yet, I think we all should learn how to use a typewriter—besides the benefits of learning how to use our words properly and precisely, or having it require us to expand our knowledge of words into our written voices without the use of thesaurus.com—typewriters connect us to the craft and machinations of writing in ways the modern word processor never can.
I can effortlessly associate and romanticize the typewriter—the smell of the ink, the pieces of metal smashing against the white paper spewing out letters you pressed on the keyboard—these words evoke an aurora of industrial strength.
Yet it was through this brutal and crude machine that classic works on revolutions and civil conflict were produced; the novels of Hemingway, Orwell, Steinbeck and Hunter S. Thompson—as well as the annual letter from your grandfather on your birthday. In the end, the typewriter defies everything our modern word processors and, if you want to go further, our postmodern world is today: artificial and fake. There is nothing romantic about Microsoft Word.
Our modern machines now blind us to how our words were once produced. Instead, our writing is now trapped within Frederick Taylor’s theories of scientific management. We are now alienated from our craft—to use the Marxian definition.
We, the student, no longer are required to hone our writing—slaving away days at a time on a loud and smelly machine—instead we just mindlessly type. I believe, then, that if students want to become more succinct writers, then there is no better substitute than practicing on a typewriter.