Why Writing On A Typewriter Feels So Strangely Modern

Years of voice dictation trained me to think before I write

Clive Thompson


This image, and all the images that follow, are scanned copies of the essay I typed out. The text in these images is precisely the same as the HTML text at the bottom of this essay, for screen-reader purposes.

(That’s the first scanned page of this blog post! If you’d rather read the HTML text — with a picture of my Olivetti portable typewriter — skip to the bottom.)

Okay, here’s a copy of the exact text I typed out, in those pages you see above:

I wrote this blog post on a typewriter.


Well, it’s a bit of a story. But it winds itself back towards our modern compositional practices in our age of smartphones.

Let me unpack that a bit.

Back when I was in college — in the late 80s and early 90s — I did not, at first, own a computer. When I wrote essays, I’d do the entire thing by hand, then sit down and — in a very long all-nighter — type the thing out. I was still living at home for the first year of my degree, and my family possessed an old manual typewriter; this being Canada, it had a specific key for typing the British pound. It was a thoroughly dreadful experience, and I couldn’t wait to own my own damn computer, like the ones I used to write stories at the campus papers.

But I was strapped for cash, so I kept on using that antediluvian beast of a machine. At the end of my first year, I saved up enough money to buy a more modern electronic typewriter, which had built in correction tape and a wee bit of memory; you could hit a…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net