The Case Against Typewriters


First, Tom Hanks shocked and awed us with “Alan Bean Plus Four,” a casual reminder of baby boomer tyranny masquerading as short fiction in the New Yorker (of all places). Next, Hanks revealed that he is working on a collection of these gems, a book inspired by his perverse fetish for typewriters. Finally, the conductor of the Polar Express completed his reign of terror, his omne trium perfectum, by reminding us that the whole thing — both the New Yorker story and the collection of typewriter porn — is nothing but a setup for Hanx Writer, his already-existing, bestselling typewriter app for the iPad.

Aspiring writers and committed readers alike — I know you’re upset — will want to avoid taking any cheap shots at Hanks. As far as we know, his reputation is unassailable. But there is progress to be had here; Hanks’ self-promotional antics have one fatal flaw: the typewriter itself. Below I’ve collected a range of anecdotes and links that leave no doubt about the idiocy of typewriter fetishism.

1. Gandhi hated typewriters. Late in life, he became

dubious about their value, while still using them when needed. In 1926, for example, Gandhi wrote to one of his Western women disciples, Esther Menon: “I too detest the typewriter. I have a horror of it, but I survive it as I survive many things which do no lasting harm. If someone dispossessed me of the typewriter, I should not shed a single tear, but, as it is there, I make use of it and, even believe that some time is being saved for more useful work.”

2. Pink Floyd used a typewriter, complete with carriage return bell, as a percussion instrument on their song “Money.”

3. Tom Hanks is writing a book of stories devoted to typewriters.

4. Even the entrepreneur behind the first commercially successful typewriter, Christopher Latham Scholes, inventor of the QWERTY keyboard, vehemently rejected the machine before his death.

5. The typewriter is the purest symbol for no less than three literary scourges: the literary curmudgeon, the pseudo-literate upstart, and that proxy for the bibliophile: the book fetishist.

6. There is a subreddit for typewriter fans.

7. Typewriters terrify children.

8. Typewriters are responsible for some of the most embarrassing man-isms in literary history. Take, for example, Ernest Hemingway’s unfortunate statement: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” And, of course, drivel like this leads to useless techno-fetishistic junk like the “Hemingwrite.”

9. Even Jack Kerouac, perhaps the US writer most associated with the typewriter, loathed having to reload its paper over and over again.

10. Contrary to all logic, typewriters are now used by German and Russian government officials to circumvent US intelligence in the wake of the NSA maelstrom. But typewriters are totally unreliable cryptographic graphic machines, and the NSA can easily “hack” them. In the 1950s, the FBI began analyzing typewriter ribbon to establish a reliable “fingerprint” for every imaginable typewriter. This led to dozens of arrests and the outing of many double-agents. Later, in 1985, Soviet spies invented keystroke loggers and installed antennas in the US Embassy in order to follow “typing patterns.”