Sitting at my typewriter, the force of my fingers banging away the loud click-click-clack of the keys, thoughts form in tiers of heavy, rounded letterforms, errors are common and, in this age, even quaint. Backspace on a 1929 Remington portable lets me type over the wrong letter until I bleed an illegible mess on the page. There is no automatic return, so the page twists up and to the left every time I start a new line. No exclamation point, the apostrophe hidden in the powerful effort of shift8, and the ribbon turned upside down in response to my sudden demands after years of nonuse.
The tips of my fingers prance discordantly, striking ‘9’ instead of ‘o’, ‘4’ and not ‘r’ or ‘e’ or ‘t’, and so accustomed am I to the automatic response of “delete, correct, continue” that I plow through half a page before I realize the gibberish I’ve been concocting. I lean over the carriage to glimpse the wreckage and ponder its results.
Where have all the errors gone?
We live in a world without mistakes, shiny and new with plastic coating and car wax to hide the dull unsheen of time. The soft whisper of my fingers on computer keys, squared and silent, lets me drift back over a misplaced letter or spelling error. We airbrush pimples, fat, redeye and other unwelcomes from our photographs, painting time with perfection so our lies become transparent.
But the world is not without mistakes, so where then do we err?
We’ve come to treat every interaction of our lives with the same disposable correction as the devices that communicate, transport, wash, fluff, dry, dice, slice, and shred. Working on a typewriter you’re forced with the unretractable forward thrust of intention and consequence. White Out may rescue a letter or two, but forget a single word and the entire page must be rewritten. Surely, this is seen as a good thing—a time-saver, salving our patience with convenience and editability.
I’m afraid there’s more to it than that.
Typewriters were built in an age like most other things were built—to last. If it breaks, you fix a knob or replace a spring and it’s good as new. If the computer malfunctions inside your new flatscreen TV, you have to buy a new one. Not a new part for the internal computer, but an entirely new television. What happened to the time when you fixed things that were broken? Where we had an inkling of consequence because errors were so common, such an inevitability due to a misplaced pinky finger striking ‘9’ instead of ‘o’.
If it can’t be fixed today, we throw it out. So where do we err? Everywhere else. Without the mundane to trip up and force us toward caution, we only have the rest of the world to destroy with our distorted view of simplicity and self-entitled amenities. Filmmakers and photographers don’t have to work to get the perfect shot because of digital’s infinite opportunity. Anyone with two fingers and brain enough to use the ‘delete’ key can write a novel these days.
We’ve lost the rite of passage, the threshold guardian that protects integrity because doing something and doing it right is supposed to be a pain in the ass. It’s supposed to be time-consuming and dangerous, with a consequence every time you hit that ‘9’. It may be more democratic with an access free-for-all (and how else would an illiterate cokehead make it to the White House?), but it’s just not as good.
In fact, it downright sucks.
So I’ll stick to my typewriters, bungling along with an appreciation for manual dexterity, until arthritis cripples me or I succumb to the cancer of convenience.