30 May 2008

Keyboard wars

BBC Magazine published an interesting article on the comeback of the typewriter today. Reading it, I was flushed with nostalgia. You see, I still own a typewriter. Years ago, when I began hacking for a living, I would hammer out copy on a huge Remington in the office. It weighed a ton and was a frightening beast. The keys would stick and my hands would get filthy with grease and dust and the carbon from the carbon copy sheets that had to be inserted between three sheets of white A4 typing paper. My finger would ache at the end of the day (you read that correctly - I did say finger, and I'm still a one-finger typist).

Back at home was a lighter creature - my prized Olivetti Lettera 22 portable, in a pale blue zip-up case with its black handle. The Olivetti was my father's and dates back to the early 1950s. I was typing up features on it for punk fanzines before I'd left school. And when I left home, it left with me. I still have it, although I've not used it since May 1988. Its last job was typing my final dissertations for my degree while on a career break.

I've moved house a lot over the last 20 years and still I schlep the Olivetti with me as I can't bear to get rid of it. It's part of my career and I can recall many of the things I wrote on it. I switched to computers after I graduated and never used the Olivetti again.

One of the drawbacks of using a typewriter is the keys ruin your nails. Even after all this time, my nails split and break from tapping away, but not as badly as they used to. I find computer keyboards much easier to work with and I disagree with Will Self that computer-users don't think in their heads, but on-screen. When I'm writing, I've often written most of the article in my head quite a while before I start typing it up. And I relish being able to instantly delete typos or re-cast a sentence, without the hassle of tippex and blue pens. I have even, in the past year, tentatively started attempting to be a two-finger typist on my latest keyboard.

People will always have their preference - the number of novelists who use a typewriter is still very high (going on anecdotal evidence here, folks), whereas those doing other kinds of wordsmithing are always going to opt for a computer. My Olivetti is still in good nick, but it can't send emails, blog, surf the net or do my accounts for me.

I rest my case.

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