I am enamored with old, manual typewriters and the thought of using them. The sound of the keybar smacking the paper through the ink ribbon and the ding, carriage return are sounds that inspire me. When you think about all the moving parts involved in a manual typewriter, it’s really quite a marvelous, complicated machine. Unfortunately, the simple reality of it is that I hate actually using one. The editing functionality of computer word processors has made me spoiled and lazy. I’d much rather go into the existing document I had written and edit it than retype the whole thing again. Technology wins and for the right reasons, but I can still simulate the aesthetics of using a typewriter without sacrificing my beloved spell-checker and ability to backspace over a typo without having to use white-out.
Take a look at my pseudo-typewriter:
See that? The picture is not as clear as I would like, but it’s my touch-screen tablet computer with a wireless Bluetooth keyboard connected. It’s running miTypewriter software and the cool part is that it behaves like a typewriter. The sounds of the keys and the the appearance on-screen is as if you are typing on a page in a vintage typewriter. The keys onscreen depress when I hit a corresponding physical key, the typebars raise and mark the character on the simulated page and the carriage moves as I type. As a bonus, it has a spelling checker and can be saved to TXT file to edit later in Microsoft Word. Even though it feels like a simulated experience because, well, it is; I find it satisfying but a little sad. A ghost of the authentic and outdated original.
I always liked this story and typography-art (author/artist unknown) and it sums up the empty feeling very well for me:
If you are still reading this, I have to assume you also have a thing for old typewriters. If you would like to have your modern computer emulate an old typewriter, (Reverse steam punk?) I compiled a list of programs that do just that.
Mock-typewriter applications you might want to try:
Visual Typewriter (Windows) – A decent virtual typewriter program. Looks nice and does the job. Free trial.
YWriter5 (Windows) – has a great typewriter sound feature that can be enabled and is a pretty decent Writing program in it’s own right. It’s also free.
Qwertick (Windows) – Runs in the background and enables typewriter sounds no matter what program you are in. I use it a lot and haven’t had any problems with it. Free.
Typewriter Keyboard (Mac) – Same thing as Qwertick for Macs. Free.
Typewriter: Minimal Text Editor (Java) – A minimalist text editor that does not allow you to backspace. All you can do is type in one direction. You can’t delete, you can’t copy, you can’t paste. Just like a typewriter. The idea is that if you can’t do these things, you will put more attention into what you are writing. The program does let you save and print. – Free.
miTypewriter (iPad, iPhone, iTouch) – is the fully animated vintage typewriter experience. You can use the onscreen keyboard or attach a Bluetooth keyboard.
Finally, if you don’t want to roll back the present but would dig reading some stories about the heyday of the manual typewriter, take a look at Ode to Manual Typewriters on ZDNet. I loved the great typewriter stories and experiences. Maybe this is the best way to appreciate these incredible machines.
© 2012, Mitch Lavender