The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, August 30, 2010

Filling a much-needed gap

One of the major problems for writers is that the machine we use to write is connected to the biggest engine of distraction ever invented. One can always disconnect, of course - there's even software that locks out the internet and email for selected periods - or use a separate, isolated computer, but I think something more elegant as well as radical is needed.

What I'm thinking of is some purely mechanical device, that took the basic QWERTY keyboard with Shift and Return keys and so on, but with each key attached to an arrangement of levers connected to a physical representation of the given letter or punctuation mark. These in turn would strike through some ink-delivery system - perhaps, though I'm reaching a bit here, a sort of tape of cloth mounted on reels - onto separate sheets of paper, fed through some kind of rubber roller (similar to that on a printer) one by one. The Return key would have to be replaced by a manual device, to literally 'return' the roller at the end of each line. Tedious, but most writers could do with more exercise anyway.

Corrections and changes would be awkward, it's true, but a glance at any word processor programme gives the answer: the completed sheets could be, physically, cut and pasted.

Someone more patient, less easily distracted, and more mechanically savvy than myself would have to develop such a device, and maybe already has - for all I know, the patent may be gathering dust. Now, its time has come. There's a huge gap in the market for it.

I tell you, someone's going to make an absolute fortune from this.



Hmm... OK, but what's to stop the levers jamming together if your keystrokes are too rapid? You'd need a software fix for that, surely.

- Mat

I bought a manual typewriter from a flea market while I was at Clarion West this summer. Best $25 I ever spent. I found that even with the time spent re-typing into the computer, I could crank out a first draft far faster than on my laptop. At first I was constantly anxious because the machine doesn't satisfy my 'save' key reflex, but that went away in time.

One word: Alphasmart.

Great idea but I did a patent search using the Google and there is some similar technology

The same person has also designed what seems to be a versatile database system.

Re: Mat and the levers jamming, perhaps we could design an arrangement of letters that would be so awkward that only very frenetic operators could operate the mechanism fast enough to jam it.

The very thought gives me the feeling of power. . . .

Jack, re save - LOL, literally.

Mat - keys jamming might be a problem for certain skilled office workers, but I'm thinking of this for writers.

The problem is the cuting-off-of-the-distraction has a very low TCO; see here, and note that there is now a WinDoze version.

The rest is just a Discipline issue, which is what distinguishes Real Writers (like you) from the rest of the world.

I heartily endorse this new mechanical word processing technology. My only request would be the addition of some sort of mechanism for rendering telegraphically-transmitted content onto a paper tape. That way I could still follow my RSS feeds.

As to making corrections on this device, what about a simple, quick-drying, paint-like fluid with which one could obliterate the underlying layer ...?

There should be a way of making multiple copies.

Given current technology and climate change, it would be best if it were carbon neutral or at least a clean carbon technology which didn't produce CO2 but was a stable form that sequestered carbon.

As for copies for the blind, that's a whole different question.

My dream machine; The Underwood Semitic. If only I were anywhere near fluent in Yiddish, and actually had a use for it.

Can you even get ink ribbons nowadays?

Ken Houghton: The rest is just a Discipline issue, which is what distinguishes Real Writers (like you) from the rest of the world.

Oh, I wish!

Im reminded of your 'babbages' in Fall Revolution, astounding yet plausible,bravo!

"Can you even get ink ribbons nowadays?"

Yup; they still make them in China (or did a couple of years ago, when I was finally able to buy some, after a long time without, thanks to .... the internet search engine ... damn ....)

- Mat

Bah, still too many distracting noises and complications. What I think would be ideal is a portable ink-delivery device that you could hold in your hand. The ink would descend to the paper only at the point of contact, and only so long as there is contact. No gears, no levers, no bells, and using this device would naturally focus your attention directly on the paper.

Pericat - I guess one could use such a device for drawing cartoons too, though goodness knows it would be tedious to have to start over again every time one drew a nose too big or a hand too small.

Cut and Paste? Shame on you.

Wait, I have a better idea!

The key is to hire one of those skilled office-worker types. You would then "dictate," or speak aloud, your narrative to that person. (To "dictate" is a neoligism I just coined, derived from the Latin word for "to speak.")

As you speak, the person would record your words upon a notepad, and do the actually typing for you later, on a machine, while you go out to have a drink or surf the Internet or whatever.

The question must then arise: But how do I ensure that such activities as drinking or surfing the 'Net do not distract me from the process of dictating?

The key is to make the action of "dictation" so engaging and pleasant for you that no other activity could lure you away. To accomplish this, the skilled office worker you hire could be a shapely female who is fond of wearing short skirts and snug sweaters. She could even sit on your lap while you "dictate." Why, you might find this so enjoyable that you'd be eager to spend hours at a time writing via "dictation." You'll get a lot more done.

Hiring an office worker based in part upon her gender and physical attractiveness may sound a bit odd, but I'm convinced this system would work. If you want to make progress, sometimes you have to prepared to make a radical break with the conventions of the past.

This string reminds me of something from a delightful short novel that I just finished this morning.

Maybe you'll recognize this quote:

"'Slide-rules,' she told me 'are a kind of computer made of wood, and typewriters are like keyboards made of iron. Neither of them use electricity.' (Incredible, I agree, but I think she was telling the truth as far as she knew. Must be some hidden electronics in them, though...)"

Alexander Cockburn wrote a piece against word processors in 1986, countering the objection that, with modern technology, one could move paragraphs around, with the rejoinder that with scissors and Scotch tape one could do precisely the same thing.

It was originally published in Mother Jones, but it can be found in his collection Corruptions Of Empire. The final paragraph begins with the words "the day I bought my sixth typewriter".

I'm putting it to the test.

Thanks to this string I developed a consuming urge to obtain a manual typewriter, which culminated in yesterday's purchase of a nearly mint condition 1958 Royal Futura 800 off Craig's List.

Once the ribbons arrive (surprisingly easy to find ribbons for sale online), we'll see whether divorcing the composition process from the electronic timesink actually results in any increase in productivity.

Old school word processor:

Post a Comment