Between the Lines: The Typewriter Revolution

Dec 30, 2015

A typewriter somewhere in New York City
Credit Richard Polt

Why would anyone these days who needs to write reach for a typewriter? Aren’t computers much more efficient? They are and author Richard Polt says that’s precisely the problem. Polt is a professor of philosophy at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, who says the typewriter is making a resurgence, if not a revolution, in our time. He’s written about this phenomenon in The Typewriter Revolution: A Typist’s Companion for the 21st Century (The Countryman Press, 2015).


Dig deep and you will find a patent for an invention that looks much like a modern typewriter as far back as 1714. English inventor Henry Mill filed his patent, describing his invention as "an artificial machine or method for the impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another." By the 1870s, typewriters could be found in a few business offices and in some homes too. The typewriter was a modern and much-used machine in the 19th century—but does it have a place in the 21st?

Polt’s interest in typewriters as a collector (he owns about 300 of them), enthusiast, repairman, writer/blogger and magazine editor goes beyond the romance of using a vintage machine. He opens his book with The Typewriter Manifesto. It’s typewritten, of course: 

Credit The Countryman Press

“We assert our right to resist the Paradigm, to rebel against the Information Regime, to escape the Data Stream. We strike a blow for self-reliance, privacy, and coherence against dependency, surveillance, and disintegration. We affirm the written word and written thought against multimedia, multitasking, and the meme. We choose the real over representation, the physical over the digital, the durable over the unsustainable, the self-sufficient over the efficient. THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TYPEWRITTEN.”

“It’s not just about nostalgia,” Polt says. “As the digitization of the world races forward — challenging our privacy, our powers of concentration and our self-reliance — it becomes ever more important to find ways to stay connected to physical reality. That’s why I call the typewriter revival an insurgency against the all-digital paradigm.”

Writing on a typewriter, Polt says, gets us “unplugged” and provides a privacy unmatched by modern technology, where every keystroke, every text, every shared message, is recorded and analyzed somewhere. The efficiency of writing on computers, he argues, comes at a high cost.

“We make things so efficiently that they’re all disposable. None of them endure. None can belong to us for long before they end up on a scrap heap,” he writes. “We process information so efficiently that we don’t dwell on thoughts and words anymore – we flit incoherently from one set of distractions to the next.”

Credit Paul Stebleton

The Typewriter Revolution is a lushly illustrated book that covers the history of typewriters but is also a comprehensive guide to finding and choosing a typewriter today, as well as how to repair and maintain it. The book also includes stories about the new typists, the “typosphere” in which they type, and the status of the “revolution.”

Social events for typewriter aficionados are growing in popularity. One such “type-in” will take place at Kazoo Books on Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo, on Saturday, January 16, from noon to 3 p.m. The event is organized by the Kalamazoo Typochondriacs and it is free and open to the public. Richard Polt will be there to talk about his book. Bring your own typewriter or write on one of the many vintage machines provided at the event.

Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.