‘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.


  1. From Ms. Holmes’ “about” page. “Linda Holmes writes and edits NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog…” Did you see that? Pop-culture. She’s also a lawyer. How much credibility can she possibly have? Her little article reinforces her “don’t look past your own nose ideal”.

  2. I was going to leave something on Holmes’ blog about how her holier-than-thou pro-Internet attitude is just as narrow-minded as she perceives Adams’ anti-Internet attitude to be…but I just don’t give a rat’s ass about Linda Holmes’ opinion on anything.

  3. While I wouldn’t wipe my arse with the Observer or the Guardian, the article does make some important points – if you haven’t had your ears on for the last ten years: same old, same old. The bit about not being able to read ‘the great…novels’ made me laugh. Look at the size of the vampire books everyone and their aunty is reading this year. Perhaps he is talking about ‘serious’ fiction?
    Anyway, all that kind of thing is said in a much better form on Umberto Eco’s site, where there’s an interesting interview about writing with computers.
    I don’t understand the second linked article.

    I think most of society is still anchored in the real world and will rediscover ‘attention’ and ‘socializing’ and so on; but it will take the following of ‘experts’ to lead them back towards their own edification, as usual. Case in point: this year I read two books by ‘experts’ about how exercise is good for the brain/body and how play is essential to human development. I look forward to an enlightening book on how ‘concentration’ is essential to a richer, happier (whiter) life.

    Cheers, Jon.

  4. Whatever tool helps you to get the job done – that’s the one you should use. If you think better writing on a manual typewriter, then use one. If a computer works better for you – go for it. This is like the Mac vs. PC nonsense, with either side bashing the other. In the end, who cares?

  5. I reject Ms. Holmes’ insinuation that the world of media is a zero-sum-game, that one must “hate the internet” in order to appreciate retro (or, shall we say, “traditional”) media technology; that one must choose one over the other; or that to like the one is to hate the other, to the exclusion of every possible option.

    This reminds me of the tiring rants on photography discussion forums where people who use film cameras are chided for not “going digital”, whatever that means. The principal objection I have to such criticism is why is it anyone else’s business how I write or create images?

  6. The Guardian article, while flawed, is vastly more interesting and thought provoking than the superfluous tripe hurled from Ms. Holmes’ keyboard.

  7. I can’t figure out what her article is about: Print is dead? Scorn at the misguided fetishism of old technology? Honestly, I’ve read it three times now and I Just Don’t Get It.

  8. I agree with Joe V’s observation that her zero sum perspective just doesn’t reflect the reality of how people approach technology. That almost does her writing too much justice though, because as you point out Mike, it isn’t even written well enough to draw the conclusion that she has a perspective.

    It’s a very weird article for NPR in particular, which I tend to associate with wisdom and restraint.

  9. I believe that retro IS the new counter-culture.

    I am proud to be a part of the grass roots movement celebrating more traditional technologies.

    My work is with 3-dimensional laser holograms. I have made it known throughout the global community that I am not advancing into the digital realm with holography. I am going to use, teach and promote the “traditional” methods.

    I have come across many “Ms. Holmes” in this quest.

  10. Thanks for this interesting post and the links. I love your blog!