Four reasons to mourn the death of the typewriter


Date: 22 November 2012

Typewriter keys

A really old typewriter (Image: Flickr user jetheriot)

From a glance at the title of this blog post, you could be forgiven for thinking we're a little late with it. Typewriters? Didn't they die off years ago?

And you'd have a point. When was the last time you saw one in the wild? Most businesses replaced them with PCs years ago, swapping fading ink ribbons and copious Tippex for the ubiquitous Microsoft Word.

But typewriters have hung on in there for far longer than you might have imagined. As the BBC reported on Tuesday, manufacturer Brother has just closed its UK assembly line, which operated from 1985.

According to the report, Brother still sees demand for around 30 typewriters a day - mainly from the legal profession (perhaps this sector has an aversion to Microsoft Word's red squiggly lines).

Indeed, the firm will continue to make typewriters in the Far East, to meet demand in the US and other countries. But it's the end of the line for UK-manufactured typewriters, and the very last one to roll off the production line is destined for the Science Museum. (You can, if you wish, still buy one online for around £100.)

Sure, modern word processing software is more versatile than old-fashioned typewriters. But even years after we all stopped using them, the typewriter still trumps the PC in certain ways. Here are four things we miss about the typewriter:

  • Their distinctive sound. These days, your average open-plan office is filled with the faint clatter of cushioned keys and mouse clicks. But back in the day, typewriters were LOUD, making a distinctive clacking noise that evokes the drama of Mad Men.
  • They make you think before acting. When every keypress commits a letter to paper indelibly, you stop and think about exactly what you want to say. In this world of instant emails, perhaps we need a little more consideration before we type.
  • They don't think for you. In my opinion, the very lowest point of human computer interaction is probably Clippy, Microsoft's much-maligned virtual assistant which interfered whenever you tried to do anything. Typewriters don't randomly change your bullet points, mess up your titles or ask if you need help writing a letter.
  • They never lose your work. They don't freeze, crash, unexpectedly quit or suffer from malware infections. They just make letters appear on paper, as you type. There's something to be said for that.

Have you ever used typewriters in your business? Do you still use them for some specialised work? Leave a comment and let us know if you miss this classic piece of office technology.

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