February 21, 2018

Throw out your computer — typewriters are making a comeback


Everything old is new again.

By now, many of us on the internet have seen and maybe even poked fun at hipsters using typewriters out in public. But what seems to have been criticized as a cry for attention from those who like to see and be seen is swelling into an actual movement, deriving from technological burnout.

As Russell Contreras writes this week for the Associated Press, the resurgence of typewriters in the US is very real. In Boston, people gathered in a city square for a pro-immigration demonstration and typed out stories from their lives. Poets sell personalized, typewritten poems on the spot. Bars host “type-ins” — meet-ups where fans can try out different models of vintage typewriters. And you know the resurgence is real when celebrities get on board: a new documentary about typewriters featuring Tom Hanks and John Mayer is forthcoming later this year.

The renewed interest began, Contreras writes, about ten years ago, when it got its start, ironically, on the internet. Likeminded people came together to share their collective joy about typewriters, and, as tends to happen, interest grew, and the current events surrounding the typewriter began to take shape.

Given their ages, many of these machines need to be repaired and updated — which offers the benefit of keeping repair shops from going the way of TV and VCR shops. A typewriter repairman in Albuquerque, John Lewis, tells Contreras, “I haven’t seen business like this in years. There’s definitely a new interest, and it’s keeping me very busy.”

Part of the thrill seems to be searching for typewriters to purchase in the first place. Per Contreras, “almost all of the original manufactures are out of business or have been bought out and become different companies.” Enthusiasts track down models across thrift stores, online auction sites, antique shops, and estate sales. Joe Van Cleave, who loves typewriters so much he runs a popular YouTube channel on restoring the machines, says, “That’s part of the fun: the hunt.”

What goes around come around; this we know. But the renewed interest in the typewriter does seem to stem from somewhere deeper than a vintage aesthetic. In a world where we are constantly distracted by the news of our middle school crush’s kid’s first steps, never-ending group-text vibrations, and push alerts declaring ever-newer ways the world is falling apart, the typewriter gives us a way to escape our “digital burnout” and disconnect. Without the temptation of a new tab to be opened, the typewriter forces us to focus on the work in front of us, the here and now. As Doug Nichol, director of the upcoming typewriter documentary “California Typewriter,” says, “It’s a one-on-one interaction that doesn’t get interrupted by Twitter alerts.”



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.