On typewriters, technology, and keeping up with the times (or not)

By John Yunker on

John Yunker

Playwright, author of the environmental novel The Tourist Trail and co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.

Our General Manager, by nature of living in a household full of them, is well aware of what a typewriter is.

But there is a whole generation of humans out there who have absolutely no reference point for these ancient devices.

They simply did not grow up with them. This was especially evident at the Wordstock book festival, where we had a typewriter on display — children under ten years old stared at it in wonder. Most of them had to ask what it was.

For context, I remind myself of what I thought when I first saw a telegraph. I wondered: People actually used this thing to communicate?

Which leads me to one of the core challenges of writing literature these days.

With technology changing so quickly, you can have a novel you began three years ago suddenly feel dated by the time you complete it — not to mention by the time you get it published. If your novel has a land line and an answering machine in it, it’s going to feel like a period piece. If one of your characters doesn’t have a cell phone or doesn’t text, the character will need to be of a certain generation, or you’ll have to explain why he or she is so technologically behind.

It’s not just about cell phones or texting.

What about tablets? Instagram? And, God help us, Facebook?

It’s getting more and more challenging to write contemporary novels that remain contemporary for a few years after they’re published.

But then again, what’s so bad about period pieces? Not to mention the fun you can have with characters who buck the trends — those without cell phones, those who have never been on Facebook. I admire these people in real life — the ability to remain disconnected.

Which means, I suppose, that though I have the cell phone and the Facebook account, I’m a typewriter person at heart.

PS: For all you other typewriter people, check out our notecards. If you’re a writer and a typewriter person, check out our special holiday bundle.

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  Comments: 2


  1. Dear Midge,
    You raise a very valid point, what with the technology spinning almost faster than we can keep up with, about the ability to sound ‘current’ in a writing piece. It may or may not be a valid challenge at this point, since much will be considered ‘period pieces’ by the time they get to publication. I’m so glad that you are allowing the young folks to get a glimpse, via the typewriters, of how we created these works, ‘way back when’.


  2. Hi Nora,
    Thanks for your comments … this is actually John’s post, but I’ll respond anyway. 🙂
    I’ve noticed this a lot as a writer, having to update a project by the time it’s ready for publication (as a short story writer, this is particularly true…it takes a few years — for me, anyway — to gather enough stories for a collection, and by then I have to see what’s out of date…usually quite a lot!).
    It really was entertaining to see all the kids at Wordstock wondering about the typewriters. I haven’t felt that old in quite a while!