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Typewriters, Computers, and Creating? 227

Posted by kdawson
from the no-country-for-old-typewriters dept.
saddleupsancho writes "Today's NY Times reports that Cormac McCarthy is auctioning the 45-year-old Olivetti manual typewriter on which all his novels, screenplays, plays, short stories, and much of his correspondence were written, to benefit the Sante Fe Institute where he is a Research Fellow. What would happen decades from now if, say, Richard Powers or Neal Stephenson attempted to auction their desktops or laptops? Setting aside completely any comparison among the three authors, is there something more intrinsically interesting and valuable, less ephemeral and interchangeable, about a typewriter vs. a computer as an instrument of literary creation? Or is the current generation just as sentimental about their computer-based devices as McCarthy's generation is about his Olivetti? Would you offer as much for McCarthy's input device if it were a generic PC, Mac, or Linux box as you would for his Olivetti?"
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Typewriters, Computers, and Creating?

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  • Cormac (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PHPNerd (1039992) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:39PM (#30291614) Homepage
    The link goes to "Cormac McCarthyl" whereas it should go to Cormac McCarthy [wikipedia.org].
  • by coppro (1143801) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:39PM (#30291616)
    How much would you pay for the computer Linus used?

    I rest my case.
    • Well since he lost his MINIX disks, not much.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248)

      How much would you pay for the computer Linus used?

      That's an interesting thought.

      But let's keep this on authors. A typewriter is a mechanical tool, the good ones were expensive and of good quality, and once you had one, there was no real reason to "upgrade." OTOH, authors today may go through a computer every 2-5 years on average, and may have more than one at a time. I don't see an author in the nearterm future only having one computer their entire career, unless it's a really short career.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by doi (584455)
      Fuck the computer, I want his security blanket.

      And I'll sell my unborn children for Schroeder's piano.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by srussia (884021)

        Fuck the computer, I want his security blanket.

        And I'll sell my unborn children for Schroeder's piano.

        That's peanuts!

    • Actually I think you do make an excellent point. Even as a Linux user with an interest in computing history I'm completely uninterested in actually owning the computer Linus used and yet the typewriter is somehow more interesting. It's mechanical and somehow more connected to the works written on it. It's stupid and irrational but before I read your comment I would have said that there was no difference but there is something more intrinsically interesting about mechanical machines as far as having them
    • How much would a collector pay for a (possibly still working) 45 year old computer used by someone semi-notable?
    • Nothing. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jotaeleemeese (303437)

      I would buy a computer to satisfy my needs, I really dislike this personality cult bullshit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      There are two differences between creating on a typewriter and a computer. First, it's a hell of a lot easier to edit on a computer; no retyping.

      But most importantly, no two typewriters leave exactly the same typeface on the paper. Back in the typewriter's day, cops could prove that a (for instance) ransom note was typed on a particular typewriter. Anything written on Cormac McCarthy's typewriter will match the typeface of his original manuscript.

      I wouldn't buy the PC Linus used at all; there would be no wa

  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:43PM (#30291648)

    Yes, there is something different. A typewriter is a durable device that lasts many years. It will build character as it wears. On the other hand, a computer grows viruses as it ages. In addition, they aren't very durable at all (I've had 7 computers/laptops. Only one of them still works... the one I'm using now) and they don't last very many years at all. In 45 years, Neil Gaiman's last 12 computers are going to be sitting in a dump or recycled into new computers.

    Also, typewriters are very classy. A lot of writers still use them for many reasons I've heard. They like the satisfying sounds it makes. You can't go back and edit things you've just written. It separates you from technology. It separates you from office work. You can haul it anywhere it work without worrying about battery life. You can't get distracted and browse slashdot...

    speaking of which, I should get back to my writing.

    • Re:Yes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Cryacin (657549) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:53PM (#30291804)
      But in the proud words of Burkowski from the Captain is out to lunch and the sailors have taken over the ship...

      I walked up and sat at the computer. It's my new consoler. My writing has doubled in power and output since I have gotten it. It's a magic thing. I sit in front of it like most people sit in front of their tv sets.
      "It's only a glorified typewriter," my son-in-law told me once.
      But he isn't a writer. He doesn't know what it is when words bite into space, flash into light, when the thoughts that come into the head can be followed at once by words, which encourages more thoughts and more words to follow. With a typewriter it's like walking through mud. With a computer, it's ice skating. It's a blazing blast. Of course, if there's nothing inside you, it doesn't matter. And then there's the clean-up work, the corrections. Hell, I used to have to write everyhing twice. The first time to get it down and the second time to correct the errors and fuckups. This way, it's one run for the fun, the glory and the escape.

      You sound like a wanna be poet living in his mothers basement.
      • You sound like a former wanna be poet trying to snub someone who still has a dream and maybe a chance to realise it.

    • Re:Yes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Potor (658520) <farker1@gmail. c o m> on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:07PM (#30291944) Journal

      I actually write (words, not code), partially for a living. I do all of my writing longhand at first. Then when I fire up the computer, I am already in my second of countless drafts, all edited on paper first by hand.

      I actually remember having to use a typewriter in middle school. There's no way you could drag me back to those days. They jam, run out of ink, are unforgiving, etc. Plus the obvious - once a letter is typed, it's typed.

      There's no point in idealizing the creative process, or in claiming typewriters - pure technology, if only mechanical - are superior. They're tools, and in good hands, good things result. In bad hands, bad things result.

      That said, I'd buy one of Burroughs's typewriters.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MightyMartian (840721)

        I find for technical writing (manuals, reports), I work well enough in a word processor, but for creative output, the pen and paper just seems to fit better. I don't know why, and my handwriting is so atrocious after 25 years of typing that it's hard to read, but I can't get in the same creative mood on a computer. I'm sure it's completely psychosomatic, but still kind of weird.

        • I don't know why, and my handwriting is so atrocious

          I haven't even been alive for 25 years, and my handwriting, I can guarantee, is worse than yours. At least you may have had a time where you wrote by hand extensively; I never did.

          • by Tynin (634655)
            Agreed. On top of that the idea of writing out more than an single page of paper makes my hand want to cramp up, just thinking about it. My poor wussy untrained writing skills simply fail on endurance, but man can I type wicked fast for hours.
        • by kklein (900361)

          Writing by hand is a more physical, direct process. I write all notes, etc., by hand. I can't think on the computer. I design classes and presentations and papers by hand on paper first. Always.

    • And 100 years ago (Score:3, Interesting)

      by copponex (13876)

      A real writing instrument isn't mechanical. It requires the human hand to function, it lives and breathes the soul of a person, revealing their character and mood with every stroke.

      Typewriters are machines. They separate you from the page, making each letter exactly the same. They jam. They're too heavy. Sometimes they break. /postmodern wit

      But for real, use what works for you. Writers fall in love with the tools that let them write, not matter how new or old.

      I'd like something in between -- an e-ink screen

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:53PM (#30292852)

        A real writing instrument isn't mechanical. It requires the human hand to function, it lives and breathes the soul of a person, revealing their character and mood with every stroke.

        I agree with your point 100%. Cormac McCarthy should be auctioning off his hand!

      • Are you people still out there, living in the 18th century?

        Writing is hard graft, hard work, sweat ant tears, discipline and method.

        Any tool that makes the job easier is a good thing.

        Handwriting and typewriters just make the full process of writing a nightmare (the process of writing does not end with the writer himself, unless he just wants to bask in the glory of his forever unknown "talent").

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Raptor851 (1557585)
      Hmm, I'd say that's more of a recent phenomena though. While it's true the working life of my recent computers is 4-5 years at most. (lower if it ever had HP, Compaq, or Sony, written on it), my Commodore, one of my friend's mac classics, and other older machines never died, just stopped being used as much. (mostly brought out just to mess with now), hell, as a more recent example, my Thinkpad was built in 2000 and is still my primary laptop today, and gets used more than any other computer I own. Works a
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Raptor851 (1557585)
        I hate to reply to myself, but good god I left a lot of extra commas in the top paragraph...sorry. It was re-edited many times and broken up and re-structured. Just read it in William Shatner's voice and it'll sound fine.
        • Just read it in William Shatner's voice and it'll sound fine.

          The reader would have to put pauses in all the wrong places and emphasis on all the wrong words to do that:

          "We come...in peace!"

    • Yes, there is something different. A typewriter is a durable device that lasts many years. It will build character as it wears. On the other hand, a computer grows viruses as it ages. In addition, they aren't very durable at all (I've had 7 computers/laptops. Only one of them still works... the one I'm using now) and they don't last very many years at all.

      I see your anecdote and raise you an anecdote: I have two Amigas from the early 90s that both still work fine (or at least did the last time I tried them a couple of years ago). I keep them purely for sentimental reasons.

    • by Selfbain (624722)
      There's also zero chance of a typewriter accidentally revealing to the world what you did on it.
      • by Whiteox (919863)

        There's also zero chance of a typewriter accidentally revealing to the world what you did on it.

        That is so wrong. Forensics (and almost anyone) can put together at least a few pages by reading the imprint on the typewriter ribbon.

  • As per the interview below, he did at one point use a word processor, but Neal Stephenson's recent work comes via fountain pen. http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Interview/Neal-Stephenson-Anathem/ba-p/678 [barnesandnoble.com]
    • My hands hurt just thinking about it. Then again, I wonder how much the baroque cycle would have weighed if he had used a work processor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by bhtooefr (649901)

        Fountain pens are actually rather easy on the hands - no pressure on the paper at all, just contact, and capillary action.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rmcd (53236) *

      If you go to the Science Fiction Museum [empsfm.org] in Seattle (attached to the Experience Music Project), they have the pens Stephenson used to write (I seem to recall) the Baroque Cycle along with the original manuscript. It's quite a stack of paper!

      A cool museum, especially for the Slashdot crowd.

    • Does it finally make him a decent author?

      The man has great ideas... but his sense of plot and wrapping up loose ends leaves a lot to be desired.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:44PM (#30291688)

    A 45 year old typewriter looks good on display and most probably still types perfectly well. A 45 year old Dell will be a pile of plastic dust with an exploded lithium battery.

    • by voss (52565)

      "A 45 year old typewriter looks good on display and most probably still types perfectly well. A 4 or 5 year old Dell will be a pile of plastic dust with an exploded lithium battery"

      There now fixed it for ya ;-)

    • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:51PM (#30292834) Homepage

      A 45 year old typewriter looks good on display and most probably still types perfectly well. A 45 year old Dell will be a pile of plastic dust with an exploded lithium battery.

      Painfully true. Restoring old computers is incredibly difficult. The sad thing about the Computer Museum in Silicon Valley is that almost nothing works. They've succeeded in restoring two IBM 1401 computers, but they had several of the original design team available. None of the their early personal computers are displayed as working devices.

      On the other hand, I have a Teletype Model 15, designed in 1930 and built during WWII, working. [aetherltd.com] I've even interfaced it to RSS and SMS feeds. Those machines were very well designed, overbuilt, and can run for decades if properly maintained. All mine needed was a thorough cleaning and oiling. [aetherltd.com] All the metal is high quality steel. The main frame parts are steel castings, and all stamped parts are from stock at least 1/16 thick. And the machine has over 500 oiling points, ranging from a dozen oil reservoirs with spring-loaded caps to hundreds of points that just need a drop of oil.

      Don't overrate mechanical nostalgia, though. Most consumer mechanical devices of that period were not very good. Many contain "pot metal", with a composition so awful that parts shatter if dropped, or simply with age. Early low-end wiring materials didn't last. Early plastics became brittle with age. Those gadgets were discarded long ago. The ones still around are the good ones.

    • A 45 year old typewriter looks good on display and most probably still types perfectly well.

      Almost certainly the 45 year old typewriters is nothing but a brick. Dust has settled deep into it's innards, clogging and slowing the mechanism. The lubricants have either evaporated or dried, further gumming up the works. The remnants of ink on the heads attracts dust too... slowly turning them into Q-tips.

      Seriously, it appears that few if any of the posters here have ever actually spent much time around

      • by iamacat (583406)

        Read TFA. The typewriter has not been maintained besides blowing out dust and it's still in the working condition. None of the problems you described are irreversible with proper cleaning. See another reply that I got [slashdot.org].

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:45PM (#30291692)

    I think the distinguishing characteristics are more a matter of interesting v. cookie-cutter device, and durable v. throw-away. I would pay money for an interesting, well-designed, durable computer with historical value. But I'm not going to shell out for a generic PC with an expected lifespan of less than 10 years, just because someone famous used it.

    In short, the Olivetti has some style, and it will likely continue to work, or can be serviced if not. That may be true of some computers, also--- older Apple products, especially the Apple ][ line and classic Macs, are already becoming collectors' items to some extent. But nobody is going to be shelling out for a 1996 Packard Bell.

  • The McCarthy typewriter will still be a functional typewriter (assuming it's taken care of by the auction winner)

    A PC or laptop decades later would be more useful as a paperweight and would have only nostalgic value, and only to those to whom it held meaning.

    Perhaps the typewriter auction winner will author something that gains acclaim. Decades later, the PC or laptop auction winner would be lucky to get the device to do anything worthwhile compared to modern systems.

    • You took the words right out of my mouth. Heck, who knows what stuff we'll be using every day even ten years from now? A single large leap could render today's whole model of personal computing obsolete.
    • I don't know, I have a power book that some of GW Bush's gubernatorial run speeches were written on. It's still got value even if I can't find the power supply
      • A power book without its power supply. Like Greenland it is named after its principle deficiency.

        (apologies to DNA).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by the phantom (107624)
      I find it interesting that you implicitly assume that the winner of the auction might intend to use the typewriter to produce something. I'm sorry, but you don't shell out the kind of money that this typewriter might be expected to go for in order to buy a tool for writing. You shell out that money in order to have an object whose value is greater than its utility because it has been involved in some kind of event or process of significance. If a person wanted to buy a typewriter for typing, there are ma
      • "I find it interesting that you implicitly assume that the winner of the auction might intend to use the typewriter to produce something."

        There's a common on all usable devices: you want them to be usable. It really doesn't matter if it's a sword, a motorcycle or a typewritter; they *must* be ready to go. A very different thing is in fact using them.

    • by Draek (916851)

      Decades later, the PC or laptop auction winner would be lucky to get the device to do anything worthwhile compared to modern systems.

      Compared to modern systems, Typewritters suck even moreso. That's why we stopped using them, remember?

      • An old manual typewriter will work in a cave with no power.

        An old computer won't do anything without power, except collect dust.

        I'd take an old manual typewriter over an old laptop any day.

  • Just as a typewriter's mechanism is kind of worn uniquely by the Author's use having bashed the words tangibly into the paper, I suppose the laptop hinge would be worn, or the power button the PC chassis.

    Maybe just sell me the the hard drive, I can marvel the was authors work briefly held by the platters as they spun.

    How does that not hold the same romance as the type writer? What? No, I dont need to get out more..
  • by Finni (23475) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:51PM (#30291764)
    Nothing about Steven King's Wang?
  • Mechanical Marvels (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @08:54PM (#30291822) Homepage

    I've heard quite a few reasons for using typewriters, especially manual. You have to think our your sentences first, since there is no real correction. On my computer I can type and type and type and edit later, but you can't do that on a typewriter (unless you want to retype everything 40 times). This forces you to put much more thought into your words and thoughts.

    The force required on the keys (if you have a manual) makes the words feel... costlier... and the sound really is great. I'd imagine that when you really get going the noise helps keep you in the groove. Actually, a good IBM Model M day do the same.

    Then there is the fiddle factor. If you gave a 12 or 14 year old a typewriter and say "write a story", all they can do is write the story. Give them a copy of Word (or any other word processor) and they can write, choose a font, a color, edit the spacing.... With a typewriter, you get words and nothing else. No fonts to change. No sizes. All the decisions are made for you.

    I'm not much of a writer. I don't own a typewriter (although my brother has beautiful one from the 40s). I can easily say that the thing I like most about this is something that probably resonates with other /.ers: they're really mechanically complex. They weigh a ton and are crammed with tons of little levers and cams and such. A seemingly almost solid block of metal articulates 30 (or so) little hammers and moves the type head perfectly, even at 120 WPM. They are little mechanical marvels. Imagine what seeing the Frank McGurrin [wikipedia.org] type 90 WPM must have been like for people, raised on writing longhand.

    • These days I would be lost without spell check, Often I just make a bad guess at the spelling of a word, then rely on the context menu to fix it for me.

      • by MBCook (132727)

        I would too. I've actually improved a ton, mostly from studying foreign languages (French and Latin, mostly). While I'm miles better than I used to be, I still get little wavy red lines all the time.

        Then there are the typos...

        Still, watching a typewriter work is rather cool.

  • Its just a box, as bland as the next guys.

    Now, real honest to god typewriter has character, every one is unique.

    • by harmonise (1484057) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:17PM (#30292024)

      Now, real honest to god typewriter has character, every one is unique.

      Yes, as unique as the next one that came off the assembly line, identical in every way as the former save the serial number.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tirerim (1108567)
        Not really -- typewriter manufacturing is much less exact than PC manufacturing, and that combined with differences in wear patterns means that even two typewriters of the exact same model, used to type the same text by the same typist, will not produce identical output. Whether you care about those differences is a different question, but they are detectable, which cannot be said of the output of computers.
  • if you could get the ink ribbons...

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by fabioalcor (1663783)

      But you can easily remanufacture an existing ink ribbon, OTOH, you cant do the same with a dead hard disk.
      Another advantage of the typewriter over the PC: even if both works, a vintage typewriter will always be compatible with today's office supplements (paper), and its easy to extract the data inserted (read the paper with your eyeballs, or OCR it). A 20+ years old PC uses physical media that aren't produced anymore, and its far more difficult to extract the data (old media, connections).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      you can get ribbons at any office supple store. if not for typewriters, than definitely for dot matrix printers. i just pull the ribbon out of the cartridge and wrap it onto the spool
  • by Taur0 (1634625) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:00PM (#30291884)
    Note that a typewriter is synonymous with writing, there is nothing else you can do on it. A type writer which has written a great piece of writing is like a sword used at a famous battle or the hockey stick that belonged to a famous hockey player. It is symbolic. A computer is not so in the same way, because it is not exclusive to writing. While you can write on a computer, it's not just limited to that. In fact there are almost infinite uses for a computer. However they are especially associated with coding and programming. So while you might expect that Linus's original computer would fetch a handsome price, you would not, for example, expect his telephone too. It's just not symbolic of what he does.
    • I beg to differ here, any object owned by a person you revere has been imbued with a value beyond it's intrinsic value. Hence the Cookie's comb, the car once owned by Hitler has value beyond the moldering heap of leather interior and rusty camshafts. Even some computers have enough character to gain that value, they merely need to be capable of being displayed. I have a powerbook with a asset tag that proudly claims that it belongs to the gubernatorial campaign of one George Bush. I think I'm going to
      • by unitron (5733)

        Hence the Cookie's comb...

        Do you mean Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, of "77 Sunset Strip"?

  • Neal Stephenson's laptop is not really relevant, because the last several books from him were written with a fountain pen.

  • If we still used typewriters every day, nobody would pay anywhere near as much for this. Similarly, when we eventually stop using what we now know as PCs, people will pay much more for a famous PC.
  • Physicality (Score:4, Interesting)

    by adoarns (718596) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:30PM (#30292138) Homepage Journal

    The Olivetti has worth because of its link to a physical product. I wouldn't value the PC or Mac of an author as much because it was only a general-purpose machine that happened to be used as a literary tool by virtue of the software on it. And I wouldn't pay anything for a decades-old binary image of Emacs. When writing on computer, the text becomes its own thing, it transcends the physical. In some ways, I dislike it because of that. I really enjoy the physical link with the text I get when writing with pen, when clacking on a manual typewriter, or otherwise. The advantages of text sublimated from the physical are great--better storage and search, versioning, editing, independent control of presentation, logical layout, etc. But it makes the tool used to make it less interesting, more mundane, more merely processing. The Olivetti, like my Pelikan, are precision tools purposely made for writing. In this way they become the paraphernalia of the writer, the adjutants of his talent. You pay for that connection. With stuff like this it's always the connection that's important. Beige boxes--even flashy Macs--don't have it.

  • by nathan s (719490) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:34PM (#30292204) Homepage

    I am a writer (or at least, I've written a couple of novels and a few hundred thousand spare words that are lying around waiting to be turned into novels, plus assorted other writing), and I have always written exclusively on a computer.

    I should be clear that I'm not trying to compare myself with Stephenson or McCarthy; I'm fully in the amateur rank, but I would say that this is mostly a personal aesthetic thing. It's sort of related to the reverence people who hate "digital books" hold for paper copies; they'll give you loads of ultimately irrational excuses down to the smell of the paper as to why they prefer to read a "real book." I've been reading novels on a screen for years, and I've discovered that I quite like the ability to zoom in on small-font text or to hold thousands of books in the footprint of one on my desk (it's really a coffee table but shhh!).

    Anyway, as for writing, it's like anything else on a computer. I don't think of it as "using a computer" - it's just a tool that lets me do what I want. Personally, I'd think that the ability to get a peek into how these guys organized their lives would be quite interesting (stumbling over their porn stashes, probably not so much, but undoubtedly revealing (hah!)). Think about all of the incidental stuff you could learn; art preferences (screensavers and so on), unfinished and aborted works, etc... I'd buy one from an author I liked, if I wasn't guaranteed to die poor by virtue of trying to be an artist myself. ;)

    • by B5_geek (638928)

      Sorry to go off-topic here, but what software do you use? What file formats do you use? .txt .rtf
      ???

      I have lost access to more copies of my writing over the years due to changing formats. (I will not repeat the loss of dozens of stories/ideas that happened with my C64.)

  • Someday, when my literary genius is finally recognized, they'll auction off my OpenOffice 3.2 Milestone 6. Fans will cherish my toolbar.
  • Analog (Score:2, Interesting)

    by His Nastiness (542696)
    Though mechanical, typewriters are also analog and as such have character. From the hammers to the action of the keys there is something unique about each typewriter and there is an appeal. Some typewriters have very smooth action on the keys, some are like typing with a mallet. A letter is askew, the ribbon is running out. It all marks a unique moment in time. A Word file has a date stamp. Maybe built in history but no handwritten note or edit. No XXXX through a word. No inherent mistakes. A computer does
  • by adosch (1397357) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:47PM (#30292316)
    I think regardless of it's a typewriter, computer, laptop or whatever tool was used to create some literary genius's art simply comes down to obsession, personal value and inspiration at limitless cost. It's kind of a no-brainer that if there's enough followers to anyone's beloved work, regardless of what it is, there's always going to be the biggest fan with the deepest pocket book that is going to snatch it up because it fills some void in them, aspires them to do something similar, goes along with with their fanatic obsession of other collected items to or it's just a good damn conversation piece.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @09:58PM (#30292416) Journal

    Is it "Cormac McCarthy [link to article on author and his work] is auctioning the 45-year-old Olivetti manual typewriter, on which all his novels, screenplays, plays, short stories, and much of his correspondence were written; is there something ... intrinsically interesting and valuable", based on the entirety or on a portion thereof?

    Or is it "a guy is selling a thing he wrote stuff with; think it's worth something"?

    I'd buy Isaac Asimov's word processor, typewriter or chalk board. I wouldn't buy kdawson's Beowulf cluster of Soviet Russian Overlords running 6 flavors of *nix, and a direct neural-to-keyboard port interface.

    I think it's safe to assume the guy is selling his history, not the tech. And certainly not the brand, because (speaking as a past office equipment repairer) Vettis suck.

  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:25PM (#30292646)

    One of my ex-girlfriends had this gorgeous Underwood typewriter which she was given as a gift and she displays in her livingroom. It has a nice aesthetic quality which engages the imagination. --If it had been owned by a famous writer from its age, then it would send thrill-chills down my spine just being near it. --Imagine Mark Twain's fountain pen (or whatever he used) on your desk.

    Perhaps when enough time has passed that computers and keyboards are irrelevant, out-moded technology, where few enough still exist that they are museum pieces from a past age, then I imagine they will hold a similar aesthetic quality for people. Especially if you happened to own one which belonged to a famous, culture-shaping individual.

    But I suspect we'll have to wait another century or so before we know who will be remembered and revered and who will be lost in time.

    Roddenberry? Maybe. I'd place my bets on Charles Schultz and Bill Waterson more than I do on Neal Stephenson. -George Lucas, too, if he'd had the good grace to die before Phantom Menace. (Sorry, George, but it's true.)

    -FL

  • by pz (113803) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:49PM (#30292818) Journal

    Technology is technology; the more modern, the more ephemeral. People get attached to things that have durability.

    My grandmother was a minor author, with five books or pamphlets under her belt. She wrote them all, in addition to her personal correspondence, on an Underwood manual typewriter from the 1890s. I've had it cleaned and serviced, and expect that it will continue to work just fine for another 120 years, assuming we can still get the ribbons (and if not, making them doesn't seem that daunting). Every letter that I type on it, every journal entry, connects me to her because she used it for so long.

    In contrast, since my first laptop purchase in 1992 or 1993, I've had eight or nine of them. They don't last. There's only one that I remember fondly (and still have a working model) but the likelihood that it will work in 20 years is quite low. The battery certainly will no longer hold any appreciable charge. My current laptop could disappear and be replaced with a newer model and I'd not really blink.

    My grandmother's typewriter has a cast iron frame and steel parts. My best laptops have had cast magnesium frames and mostly plastic parts. In the 50 years that my grandmother used her typewriter, some of the letters started to show wear. My laptops have universally shown keyboard wear in under 2 years, most in under 1 year.

    If computers had an appreciable lifetime beyond two or three years, then quite possibly, we might find the same attachment, but we don't. The only real attachment that people have are to some keyboards, most notably the IBM Model M, which is built like an old-style typewriter.

    • We're not yet to the point where the pace of technology improvements with regards to CPU performance, memory, cost have tailed off yet. (Although we're getting closer.) As computers stop becoming doorstops after a few short years, I think we'll see a shift in the upper-end of the market towards competition on quality & longevity.

      (You can sort of get that today with laptops if you stick with the models that have an affordable 5yr warranty and you avoid the bottom half of the market. Eventually, I exp
  • by cyberry (1105735) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @10:57PM (#30292882)

    funny - without knowing what the topic was, when I saw the mention of the Olivetti typewriter I had warm memories of the Olivetti portable typewriter I used to pay my way through college by typing other students' term papers.

    I don't think the emotional response is limited to typewriters. I remember fondly my first computer - a Kaypro - a portable computer at only 26 pounds! Back then (1983) home computers were unusual and did unusual things. Now they are pretty routine, and many people don't use them for much more than one could do with a high-end smartphone. (Play some music, display some pictures, connect to the internet, check out Twitter...)

    And I don't think the issue is just about whether the item works. I'd pay money to get my old Kaypro back, even if it weren't working (not much money, but some). On the other hand, I wouldn't pay anything for its successor, which if i remember correctly was a Fountain XT computer (a cheap IBM knockoff).

  • Neil Stevenson doesn't write with a computer. He writes with pen and paper. Apparently, the first drafts of his novels are as tall as a person.

    How do I know this? My best friend worked with Stevenson at Bezos's space venture Blue. (Neither of them are still there.)

  • Setting aside completely any comparison among the three authors, is there something more intrinsically interesting and valuable, less ephemeral and interchangeable, about a typewriter vs. a computer as an instrument of literary creation?

    Who knows? I suspect the answer to be no: we like the physical manifestations and possessions of the famous, as if we'll gain their powers or knowledge by proximity. And for writers, I don't think it matters what OS you use [jseliger.com], although I like OS X; it probably doesn't even

  • who cares about the computer, it's all about the keyboard.

  • I would actually pay more for a computer that for a typewriter, provided that it contains the software and data the author used, except probably some sensitive personal data.

    A computer can tell about a person far more than a typewriter.

  • I can think of plenty of (perfectly sane) people who would happily bid for Douglas Adam's Mac. Especially if the files were left intact - some of them were used in constructing the Salmon of Doubt, the novel he was outlining at the time.

    A collector's item only needs to be unique - it doesn't matter what it is, physically. Charlie Chaplin's bowler hat is just the same as any other bowler hat - but worth a lot more.

  • Neal Stephenson writes with a pen. Why would anyone want to buy his computer? http://www.inkygirl.com/neal-stephenson-writing-and-editing-with-a-fountain-pen/ [inkygirl.com]

It is the quality rather than the quantity that matters. - Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 B.C. - A.D. 65)

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