Pesi D. Muncherji believes that the manual typewriter will make a good writer a great one
"DONíT write me off", is what the typewriter today is saying to its user and seller. In India, with computers having found their way into practically every modern office, there is every reason for typewriter users to react stubbornly and loathe the use of computers.
In practically every large city of India, the typewriter dealer is going out of business after the closing down of manufacturers like Remington, Halda and Facit. Only Godrej remains in the fray, that too, not in a very big way. The few dealers who are left dread the day when they will have to roll down their shutters or trade in some other product which can bring them good returns.
Speaking to some of our popular and big typewriter dealers in Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Baroda, one of them mentioned: "Itís like having the carpet pulled out from under our feet." This dealer had been in business for the last 45 years selling these manual machines.
Such dealers and other typewriter diehards are still of the opinion that the typewriter is of superior technology. To them, it is simpler, more reliable, and easier to maintain. It has the ability to print immediately, without having to pay for costly accessories at a future date.
The typewriter has a number of advantages. The machines are made to last, and are superior environmentally. They are less likely to inflict repetitive-motion injuries to typistsí hands.
More important, typewriter lovers strongly believe that the word-processing computerís so-called advantages ó the ability to write without stopping, the effortless power to move words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters quite easily and even the magic of machine-corrected spelling and grammar ó have not come without their price, which perhaps many cannot afford in India.
In fact they feel the word-processor has obstructed writing itself. Even in advanced countries like America, Robert Caro, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1974 biography The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, expressed his dissatisfaction with the computer in these words: "A lot of people think that using a computer will not change, or will improve, the quality of writing, but I am absolutely sure that they are wrong. The computer makes things faster and easier, but I am not sure that faster and easier are an unalloyed good. Is it really a good thing to write as fast as your fingers can move? I THINK WITH MY FINGERS, SO I WANT TO SLOW MYSELF DOWN."
Robert Caro still uses a portable manual typewriter (he has 14 of them), as he has been doing for decades, even though spare parts are not so easily available. He continues: "Iím not telling anyone how to write. Iím not saying computers are a bad thing but, for me, the very act of going slower gives you more time to think about it. And I am always afraid that I wonít think enough."
Quite a few U.S. newspaper correspondents feel as Robert Caro does. To them the copy that comes out of the computer is all the same gray, without character. They worry about the computerís bad effect on their writing. On a typewriter they find it easier tackling the pressures of routine writing without any complaint.
Then there is the story of Peter Maas, the American author of Underboss and Serpico, who was forced by his son to get a computer. His initial reaction was one of joy.
"I started typing and it was like a miracle. The screen looked so authoritative. I could instantly erase mistakes. I thought it was fabulous." But later he felt disappointed when as he says: "I printed out what I wrote. It was horrifying, so easy to spill out words. Too easy. I had to retrain myself. Now I try to be more careful as I work, because itís so easy to overwrite."
Then there is the other school of thought to whom all this is nonsense. The whole contention, as computer user Andy Rooney, an American correspondent, said "is the kind of false argument that I would be using if I were making a case for the typewriter." Andy Rooney began using Word Perfect a decade ago.
"I hate to say this, but my writing is better since I started using a computer, because I can now re-do things that I wouldnít have taken the time to re-do."
Quite a lot of people agree with Andy Rooney that computers make writing easier, but then the typewriter, too, has many plus points.
A typewriter will not break down, if serviced regularly. You will not lose what you have written due to a power or technical breakdown, which is so very common in India. The durable typewriter will make a good writer a great one.
Many, like me, use a typewriter because it does immediate printing. It is a companion which can accompany you in travel, and can be used at any time if instantly required. Yes, so can the lap-top. But how many can afford it?
One has to play dumb-charade with the computer till it says, "Now you can use me."
THE SAFETY ISSUE
Then there is the safety issue, where the old mechanical typewriter has a number of advantages over the computer keyboard. Dr. Alan Hedge, Professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University, U.S.A., has this to say: "Those using a computer keyboard lift their fingers up increasing pressure on the carpal tunnel, the nerves-and-tendon passage in the wrist that can become inflamed." Would you like this to happen to you?
Many writers who long ago made a switch to word-processing have discovered that they are now technological orphans due to improved technology.
To cite a very fine example, one can consider the predicament Dr. William Zinsser ó a Manhattan author of 15 books which included his million-copy seller On Writing Well ó was placed in, when in the early 1980s he bought an IBM Displaywriter. He became so proficient that he published Writing with a Word Processor in 1983 which straightaway sold 100,000 copies. Following his advice, people unhesitatingly took to the word-processor, little realising that the Displaywriter and its software, Displaywrite 5, soon became obsolete. Much against his will, Dr. William Zinsser had to give up its use, as it was difficult to get ribbons for the printer.
Not so with the manual typewriter, where the ribbons are still available today even after a hundred years.
Technology has undoubtedly made fantastic strides, but its affordability becomes questionable, particularly in poor countries like India.
The other day both the computer and the typewriter were idling comfortably, sitting on a display stand in a Mumbai showroom in Home Street, discussing their merits, when with a chuckle the typewriter with an extended arm said to its users and sellers: "DONíT write me off."