The Lost Art of the Typewriter

Long before electronic devices were introduced and became widely adapted, individuals used various mechanisms to accomplish specific tasks. One invention that, specifically, played a role in productivity back in the day was the typewriter.

In comparison to computers and smartphones, the typewriter came with apparent drawbacks. Most notable, for instance, is how one incorrect keystroke meant one would need to retype their entire paper. Once computers became mainstream, it became clear that the ability to correct mistakes on the spot would replace the typewriter altogether.

The Significance of the Typewriter

If the typewriter has so many inefficiencies compared to digital technology, then what is the relevance of revisiting this old-world invention, you may ask. To answer this question: there is much we can learn from more analog devices of the past and how they brought about specific qualities in human behavior.

Because the typewriter required addition efforts on the user’s behalf, this utility forged traits in individuals that are, quite arguably, becoming less and less common today. Computers do produce quicker and more accurate outcomes than the typewriter. However, it’s important to understand what is lost in the process of using digital devices.

What We Can Learn

One advantage that the typewriter provides, whereas technology is unable, has to do with our quality of thoughts, reactions, and actions. The typewriter forced individuals to truly think and craft responses from their thoughts. They had to slow down and contemplate their ideas (and spelling) prior to putting these thoughts on paper. Failing to do so meant starting again from scratch.

In contrast, digital devices can prompt less consideration on our behalf since unlimited information and spellcheck is at our disposal. This prevents us from fully using our brain to development and refine our thoughts. You could say that, as we increase our efficiency in some areas, we can lose out on humanistic gains in other regards.

Electronic devices have the capacity to help us achieve more than ever before. An action we can take to ensure we reap the benefits of old-time utilities, though, is to use these mechanisms in tandem with modern technology. Continue reading to learn about five attributes you can restore by practice writing on a typewriter from time-to-time.

1. Attention

When using a typewriter, the only way we can produce accurate results is to concentrate on the task at hand. This entails specific attention towards spelling, grammar, and order of thoughts. Our electronic devices, however, have lessened our ability to achieve deep focus with all the information available at our fingertips.

According to a 52-page study from Microsoft Corporation, people now generally have much lower attention spaces. It was found that since the year 2000, the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds. In fact, scientists have discovered that our attention spans are less than goldfish, which are able to focus on a task or object for 9 seconds.

2. Precision

The inability to correct mistakes while using a typewriter also prompted individuals to produce sound results the first time around. Unless the individual wanted to mask a minor mistake with whiteout, they placed an emphasis on accuracy to avoid redoing their work. The internet can give us access to unlimited words, grammar insights, and ideas to increase precision. However, this weakens the skill of retaining basic knowledge for use on spontaneous occasions.

A series of experiments suggest that when people are faced with difficult questions, they are likely to think that the Internet will help them find the answers. In fact, those who expect to able to search for answers to difficult questions online are less likely to commit the information to memory. To put it shortly: relying on the internet to craft our thoughts impacts our ability to achieve precision from our own knowledge base.

3. Patience

Attentiveness and precision were essential components of efficient typewriting, which meant that individuals had to remain patient during this process to achieve meticulous results. As modern technology replaced the typewriter and made it quicker to accomplish similar outcomes, though, the virtue of patience began to dwindle.

According to survey of 2,000 British adults, three quarters said they believe the dominance of digital technology, such as smartphones and on-demand TVs, are to blame for this ever-growing lack of patience. Respondents in this survey also reported becoming frustrated after just 16 seconds of waiting for a web page to load.

4. Forethought

By definition, the word forethought means ‘mental preparedness.’ Individuals who used the typewriter, very evidently, had to think their thoughts through before stringing ideas together. All of the readily available information on our electronic devices, however, has conditioned us to use the internet as the extension of our thoughts, rather than thinking for ourselves.

According to the Computers in Human Behavior research, it was found that those who think more intuitively, and less analytically, when given reasoning problems were more likely to rely on their smartphones for information in their everyday lives. Allowing our brain to think profoundly, on the converse, enables us to rebuild our critical thinking skills and rely less on electronic devices to formulate our responses.

5. Persistence

When individuals used typewriters, the only function they could perform with that mechanism is type. This enabled them to carry on with the task at hand and increased the likelihood of completion. The vast amount of functionality and information accessible through electronic devices, though, challenges our ability to persist with the immediate area of focus.

One study found that one byproduct of procrastination involves choosing shallow, immediate options over more satisfying ventures that require more effort.  Given how it takes very little navigation to switch from productive tasks to unproductive distractions on electronic devices, it is critical that we hold ourselves accountable for seeing our objectives through.

Restoring Foundational Skills

There are several valuable attributes we can revive simply by typewriting on occasion. Though the typewriter requires more deliberation on our part, we can learn through this process to slow down, examine our thoughts, and use every keystroke intentionally.

Just like the typewriter, we also have much to gain from smartphones and computers. It is critical, though, that, as modern technology become integrated into our lives in more ways, we also make use of older technology to restore the qualities once learned through limitations.

Perhaps… Embrace the Typewriter

Claiming that the typewriter will fix all of modern humanity’s shortcomings is a stretch. However, readapting the typewriter may provide one solution for starting to restore human qualities that became less common as electronic devices became more common.

Computers and phones will remain standard ways of efficiently typing documents in the workplace. On your own time, however, challenge yourself to practice write with a typewriter. You may find that any new pursuit that involves discomfort and an up-front investment is much easier to push off than pursue. Do consider, though, how sometimes the most simple efforts can impact us in the most profound ways.