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Quora.com: A public record of retrotech?


I’ve lately been fooling around with a web site called Quora.com, which is a trendy new social media question and answer portal (probably there are several ways to describe its functionality; that’s as close as I can come). Here is a Time Magazine article about it, and another on Mashable.

Quora is complicated. It incorporates aspects of different social media platforms (voting answers up and down like Digg, followers and following like Twitter, the ability to edit others’ entries like Wikipedia) and currently, in its early adoption phase, seems to favor social media hot shots who’ve brought a lot of acolytes with them onto the service. The nattering nabobs of interweb tech blogging are not sure whether it’s The Next Big Thing or A Terrible Idea, and they’re currently burning up the social media echo chamber with their bloviations on the topic.

As retrotechies, why should we care? Perhaps we shouldn’t. All I know is this: Quora has a ‘typewriter’ category. I’ve populated the five or so questions that have been posted there with my answers, as part of my ongoing attempt to evangelize the typecasting movement. To quote Speculator:

“Like Tom Furrier says, “all it takes is a reminder.” And that’s just it. People see how practical and instantaneous and portably efficient typewriters are- combined with the charm of the mechanisms, and ideas are born- such that more folks go looking for their own typewriters.”color>

I’d like to see all of us take opportunities, where they exist, to provide thorough, thoughtful information about typewriters and retrotech for this reason. The more typewriter users and fans we can create, the more hope there is for typewriter shops, ribbon manufacturing, snail mail, and typewriter social networks and events.

For some time, Wikipedia has had a definition of “typecasting” (I do not know the author, do you?) which is the only example I know of a reference to typecasting outside of the typosphere itself (although, recent stories in local newspapers about type-in events certainly qualify as such, now that I think about it). I’d like to see more. As a technical writer, I have long worked in organizations that think first to evangelize products within their own web sites, but the truth of the matter is, social media platforms are where people hang out. You have to bring the message to the platform if you want the word to get out.

And so, Quora provides one such opportunity to sign up, answer questions, and ask others, thereby building an official and high-quality external record of information about retrotech. I think it’s worth considering as an act of “typostolate,” a term coined by Speculator to describe the act of evangelizing retrotech.

The interweb is dead

In a recent Wired article, Chris Anderson (author of Free: The Future of a Radical Price) read the internet its last rites. Yes, the very web upon which you’ve squandered the last decade or more tracking eBay auctions for red Royal typewriters and checking your mail has apparently joined spirit duplicator machines and telegrams in the remainder bin of old media culture as the app model rises to prominence.

“This was all inevitable,” Anderson shrugs. “It is the cycle of capitalism.” This is the story of technology as it’s always told: a chain of formats that individually dominate and then destruct. To use or champion anything but the latest version of the latest thing earns you censure and contempt. But you and I both know that reality doesn’t work like this: books and bookstores are still here. Newspapers are still here. Typewriters, pens, and paper are still here. They’ve coexisted with the internet since 1990, and the internet will probably stick around too. Why? Because we want it to.

Technologies die violent deaths less often than we think,” writes Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic Monthly. “We collectively choose the world that we want, not just as consumers, but as people who have and promote ideas.” In a world where technological formats dominate and destruct, and make our choices for us, he writes that there would be “no use in trying to preserve the things about our lives that we love.” But we do just that, which is why you can still read print books, and find a ribbon for your typewriter, and get a new set of woodcase pencils without much fuss. It’s the way we want things. So I’d hold off on playing Amazing Grace on the bagpipes for the interweb. So long as you want it around, it’s probably going to be here.

Keychop an iPad today

 

It’s not just the journalists who are losing their livelihoods in the digital age. Saw this bit about New Zealand newsroom typers being hacked for bracelets. “This is the age of recycling and we will see more of this type of recycling and re-using outdated machinery and pieces as time goes on,” a jewelry maker is quoted as saying about the practice of removing keys for jewelry, known lovingly in the typosphere as keychopping. (So. Any of you want to volunteer to write the fair and balanced Wikipedia entry for this term?)

If you haven’t read it already, revisit the Collapsing World post from 2006 (how time flies) An open letter to key harvesters for a nice summary of how your typical typophile feels about stripping old writing machines for jewelry parts. Hint: they don’t like it. I don’t like it either, but I acknowledge this: outside of the rather small realm of analog admirers, typewriters are perceived as having no functional value. The digital era espouses that each new technology (e.g., the iPad) is a revolution that overthrows its predecessors (the laptop), which are thereafter only useful as symbols of backwards thinking and the dreaded act of growing old.

In fact, the typewriter, in the short backwards reach of technological history, has attained a status analogous to that of a Chinese dynasty, presiding over the written word for an unthinkable century, a statistic that laughs long and loud at the inevitably small months-long footprint of influence for which the iPad is destined. If any device is deserving to be worn in parts as an ironic statement about the ceaseless march toward cultural irrelevance, it is the iPad.

So stay ahead of the trends, and chop one today.

You are not a Gadget

A BAROP if you have not met one is a Big-Ass Roll of Paper which allows for endless typewriter rambling without page breaks. I recommend procuring one post-haste. They tend to be found rolling around eBay at reasonable prices.

Since it is Silent Type season, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I gathered up a large parcel of submissions from the PO box today (well, the husband picked them up actually, credit where credit is due) and the spreadsheet should be more or less up to date.

Do you still intend to contribute, but are worried you can’t make the April 1st date? Please let me know. I’ll see what I can work out. I am impressed though that, unlike with issue 1, I have critical mass before the deadline. Nice work, everyone.

PS: This post written with a Lettera 22.

Digital stories about the typosphere

I just started a digital storytelling class in my grad school program, and for the first assignment, I had to tell a very short story in five slides. I decided to introduce the typosphere by telling brief stories about a few of its participants (thank you to Dirk, Monda, and Mpclemens. If the video were longer I would have included many more). Note: there is an audio voiceover.

It’s not [insert genius director] work, I acknowledge, but then I think that’s what the typosphere is all about: trying stuff and seeing what sticks. It’s about first drafts and wite-out. It’s about actually doing things and sharing things with other people, instead of sitting around thinking about it. (“And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”)

In class I learned about something brilliant, NPR’s Storycorps, which is an oral history project where a mobile recording studio records thousands of personal stories all over the United States. They provide a do-it-yourself video and written guide for people who’d like to try it themselves, as well. Don’t you think this would be a perfect way to capture some typewriter tales, before its too late? How I would love to hear interviews some of you captured with typewriter sales and service people, or someone interviewing you about your typecasting work, either with video, or just audio.

Let me restate: I am challenging you to give this a try. If only to record other personal or family stories in your own lives, it’s just one of those projects you’ll thank yourself for doing later, when the voices you record are gone.

Memo to the typosphere: meet me on Google Wave

We’re all acquainted with the confused thinking out there that sometimes equates a love of tech history and 20th century writing machines with a fear of technology. (It is all the more comical when you realize that the more hard core someone is about typewriters, the more likely they are an engineer or machinist, someone certainly far beyond the commonly understood ‘tech savvy’ standard of thumb-typing on an iPhone and reading Ashton Kutcher’s tweets.)

My point is this: Google Wave. Either it is the Edsel/Segway Scooter of online communication, as some have said, or this kind of thing is the long-awaited death of e-mail (lord, I hope it is the latter). Either way, I want to be one of the first to find out. And I want to bring the typosphere with me.

Here is a video explaining Google Wave. Here is another. I’ve sent out some wave invitations to some typospherians, who each now probably have around 20 invites of your own. Invite more people. Start waving about typewriters. Add us to your waves. We’ll figure it out. Cause we’re just that clever.

‘The Manual Typewriter ideal,’ or why Linda Holmes thinks you are a moron

Just read an interesting article in The UK Guardian Observer by Tim Adams about the pitfalls of our general cultural movement toward the “always on” model of personal digital engagement. Some interesting quotes:

Slowly all the aspects of the world that were formerly external to us, out there – friends, shops, newspapers and now books – are being accommodated into this space, so that they can be contained almost entirely on our personalised screens.

We are quickly moving toward an era that will allow each of us to become the editor of our own newspaper and director of our own television schedule; our computers will help us in this process, listen to our histories, define our likes and dislikes and recommend accordingly; they will be our personal shoppers and cultural critics, reinforcing our tastes…This new solipsistic power, however, is unlikely to be without consequences.

Will anyone who is “always on” have the concentration to read the great social novels – those ultimate “interactions” with the world – on a screen? Will anyone be able to see far enough beyond themselves to write one?

If those seem like reasonable points, The Manual Typewriter Ideal, a rebuttal of sorts by Linda Holmes at NPR.com, is likely to annoy (if not solely because of the title, which implies that people who value traditional methods of reading and writing are, well, morons).

Linda Holmes fancifully calls the Guardian article “a distilled version of what people who hate the Internet believe about it,” and goes on distort most of the original’s points to support her curiously strident thesis. When I finished her piece, I remain unconvinced that we read the same article, but then again, I value traditional methods of writing and reading, and therefore, am likely a moron.

Gelaskins, Alphasmarts, the aesthetics of creative machines


So, a professor and a student in my grad program both have Gelaskins on their laptops; in one case, a boom box, and in another, a typewriter. What kind of statement does this make, do you think? The husband calls it irony. Of course I am thinking more along the lines of it being an homage to the vanished aesthetic value of creative machines. But then, what statement does a motherboard make? Or the steampunk? (I’ll come out and say it– I don’t understand steampunk. It seems a natural extension of retromechanical admiration, and yet, I can make no sense of it.) Thoughts?

Ooh, look at this one for iPhones.

No, you silly FTC goons, Gelaskins did not compensate me to endorse the product. Schtickers is the same kind of concept, but they don’t seem to have much to offer in the scribeomechanical aesthetic. (Schtickers! Throw us a Lettera 22!)

You know what would be wonderfully ironic? An Alphasmart laptop skin. And while I’m shamelessly endorsing whimsical expenditures amidst a collapsing global economy, there’s just something I love about the Alphasmart. I think there’s a wider future in this concept of self-limiting tech, a sort of digital Nicorette for people trying to escape CNN updates about balloonboy while they craft their written works. I don’t use the Alphasmart as often as I should, but on the eve of Nanowrimo I’ll assert that there is no better/easier way to write 50,000 words, anywhere, in 30 days. Computers can’t do it better. In fact, they do it worse. And you can take that to the bank. (What does that expression mean exactly?)

One last promotional push: Ace Typewriter of Portland, OR is rolling out t-shirts with their new design (which kind of brings to mind the old Kidd Valley* logo that was politically corrected into a sort of Formica 50’s boomerang to assuage Northwestern feminists.**)

That is all.

* A Seattle-area hamburger chain
** I am a feminist, actually. But you can bet I’d wear the Ace shirt.

Typewriter photography, pen pencil & paper, and why Flickr is better than Twitter

I think that this Sotto Voce post is very interesting. If you haven’t read it yet, do. I’ll be checking his comments section for your opinion of the Seth Godin “bandwidth-sync correlation” chart.

The first Carnival of Pen, Pencil & Paper is live. Check it out!

Here is a photo of Dennis and Matt McCormack of Ace Typewriter in Portland, OR. It was taken by Jake Shivery of Blue Moon Camera & Machine.

Elsewhere on Flickr are still more interesting photos related to typewriters. I have said it before and I will say it again– Flickr is definitely the best social-media website there is. And here’s why: related to the Sotto Voce post, it transforms ephemeral information into an organized and (digitally) permanent resource, retaining its value. Compared to this, Twitter is like a Letterpress type cabinet knocked over in an earthquake.

Retrotech art, typecon, Alphasmart easter eggs, Wikipedia

I like Christopher Stott’s paintings – esp. those of retrotech.

This is a hoax. Right? I could not get it to work.

Some of you guys were talking about Typecon over in Flickr. I can’t seem to determine if this would contain anything of interest to typecasters, or whether it is just an industry event for typesetters. Anyone know more?

Speaking of Wikipedia, I was thinking one of us should do an entry on typecasting. Much to my surprise, one is already there. My name is in the footnotes…‽ I think we need to get a whole list of typecasters on there, so someone head over to Wikipedia and start editing.