The Wayback Machine

Good friends

Some of us are old enough to remember THIS WABAC machine

(although, seriously, can no one spell Edgar Allan Poe’s name correctly?)

There is an immediacy to typing onto paper, as opposed to the ephemeral nature of electronic communication. What we want is to see our words IN PRINT, bound in a book. Electronic communications seem somehow less real than a printed page of paper. Ever since writing was invented we’ve been fixing it in one form or another: cuneiform and glyphs onto stone and clay tablets, later papyrus came along, vellum, paper. All tangible, visceral forms of communication. Sure, most of us use computers and text and email and blog (yours truly is clearly no exception), but emails and texts and electronic publishing have the staying power of a puff of wind. They’re gone in a flash, like a conversation. It’s the same reason we create videos, take photographs.

There’s a scene in the new television show “Revolution” that speaks to this. The premise of the show is that all electricity in the world is somehow neutralized, even batteries are useless. Cars stop dead, planes won’t fly and fall out of the sky when it happens. And yet one of the characters continues to hold onto her iPhone because it contains the only photographs she has of her children, who she hopes are still alive in another country that she can no longer get to. She knows those photos are in there, and she’s not getting rid of the iPhone even though it won’t turn on and she can’t see the photos. How many of us have hundreds, even thousands, of photos stored on SD cards, or hard drives? How often do you ever look at them? I bet like most people you don’t, you’ve probably forgotten what you have. Sure, it’s cheaper than wasting rolls and rolls of film and the expense of developing, but what good are they if you never even see them, or the computer dies and takes all your photos to the grave with it?

As much as I love my computer and scanner and digital camera, I still like things that are not dependent on electricity to function. Hence I still buy printed books and don’t have an ereader. Now, that said, I’m not giving up my electric oven and going back to cooking over a wood fire (it’s not like you can save what you’ve cooked for posterity), but some things need to be saved in physical form.

I found this video at Ace Typewriter’s Web site:

I can’t embed it here because sites can’t use Flash. Astounding that already young people don’t even recognize these machines when they see them.

Here’s another short one that features a collector who has Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter:

It’s nice to know I’m not the only kook still in love with mechanical devices.

So here is my own prize, my own Wayback Machine:

better front viewkeys

It’s an Optima Super, made in West Germany (or “Western Germany” as they apparently called it back in the old days). Isn’t she pretty? When she arrived (and some of you know the saga) she wasn’t working, the carriage didn’t move, so off she went to the typewriter spa for a long soak and some TLC. In October. Just brought her home today, all spiffed up and freshly oiled and a new ribbon installed. The repair guy almost gave up on her. After getting things working, she froze up again 4 times. His estimate was that she had been sitting in storage for fifty years, no wonder she was feeling her age. Apparently the gang at the shop where I had it serviced all took turns typing on her, they seemed very impressed not only with the way she works, but she wowed them with her appearance as well. She is a beauty. The color’s a little funky (the light in my house is terrible, especially this time of year), she’s really a lovely beige with brown keys.

And the sound. There’s just nothing quite like the clacking of the keys. Did you know keyboards for computers are purposely designed to make the clicking noise? They could be totally silent, but apparently people prefer to hear that sound. It’s like confirmation that the key struck the paper and left an impression.Β  Done. Complete.

I also have this:

Adler J5

But this one hasn’t been to the spa yet, and there’s no ribbon in it. I swiped the picture from the original Ebay listing. This is an Adler J5, another German machine. The body is plastic but the keys seem to be incredibly smooth. I must get it in for a cleaning and a fresh ribbon so I can play with it.

I just love that these things are mechanical, not dependent on electricity or being tethered to power cords, no blue screen of death. Sure things can go wrong, but I just love the simplicity of them, the same way I love the beauty and simplicity of the bicycle over the automobile. Maybe I was a tinker or builder in another life.

9 thoughts on “The Wayback Machine

  1. It is so great looking, I am very envious. It reminds me of so many of my favorite writers. It must feel amazing to snap those keys. Thanks for posting this. I haven’t been reading online for the past couple of days. Eould have if I knew this was here. So thrilled for you. I smell inspiration ib droves.


  2. Thanks, Susannah πŸ™‚ I was surprised at how well I was able to type on it, but those keys sure take a lot more energy to engage than a computer keyboard! I just hope unplugging from the internet will make me more productive. I’m so easily distracted by the Web, I waste a lot of time.

    When comments disappear in the box as you’re typing, hit the down arrow key, and it will scroll the box down so you can see what you’re saying πŸ˜‰


  3. Another lovely blog! I have my Dad’s old typewriter and must get it going again, it is a Siemens and was already old when he bought it in the fifties or sixties. Thanks for the reminder πŸ™‚


  4. It’s amazing how much some of these go for now. They’re becoming highly collectible, even if you don’t use them. I’m still hoping to score a Voss that types in script. Not that I need it, but they’re so pretty πŸ˜‰


  5. Hi Lora!
    Good to hear from you, hope your New Year is off to a good start.
    It had been so long since I’d used an actual typewriter, I almost forgot how to work some of the functions! LOL Even when I went to school, we learned to type on electric machines so a manual is a whole new ballgame to me. It’s fun, though, and rather romantic πŸ˜‰


  6. Oh, they’re fabulous! You’ve inspired me to dig out my old typewriter and see what I can do πŸ™‚ I am also inspired to visit WordPress more often….


    1. Hah! πŸ™‚ Thanks, I’m pretty happy with them. Still haven’t gotten a ribbon for the Adler, though. The guys in the shop where I had the Optima worked on were in awe of it, I think they all took turns typing on it. It cost a bit to get it up to working order (about $65, I think), but it’s so pretty it was worth it to me.


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