The Typewriter Lives / Rand, Sottsass & Pintori


The Typewriter Lives / Rand, Sottsass & Pintori

The typewriter is officially dead. Well, not really. It was widely reported to have died in 2009 when, ostensibly, the last company to produce them, Godrej & Boyce from Mumbai, discontinued production. But the world this week was quick to lament its symbolic and final passing, as Godrej sells its final stock. But as several respectable sources report, such as Canada’s National Post, several producers remain. Because, after all, prisoners and the Amish will always need something to write letters with.

Today, we’re far from the days of the gorgeous Olivetti Valentine and rock-solid, anvil-heavy Smith Corona. It’s not rocket science to understand the lack of demand for the old workhorses over the past several years (or, y’know, decades). But the typewriter is is such a potent archetype that, even though it’s faded almost entirely from use, its complete abandonment is difficult to swallow.

We watched its form merge with that of the computer over the seventies and eighties. And today inside almost anything with a typing interface – mobile phones, computers, car navigation systems – the typewriter’s QWERTY archetype (or AZERTY for you crazy Frenchies) lives on. But as we’ve explored before, the loss of tactility in our new, predominately digital environments isn’t always easy to deal with. Not to mention the exponentially increasing complexity of the objects themselves. The typewriter’s death – real or exaggerated – signals a further uncomfortable detachment from the past.

And although we’re most certainly not technophobic Luddites, the culture of the typewriter deserves its due. Its sheer brilliance was capped off by its 1960s and 1970s pinnacle as Ettore Sotsass, Mario Bellini and George Sowden turned them into functional high art. The typewriter was inextricably a part of the creative and visual cultures that made some corporations bastions of good design: think of Paul Rand, Giovanni Pintori and even Sotsass’ gorgeous and imaginative graphic works for the likes of Olivetti and IBM.

Typewriters were sources of great innovation in ergonomics and the relationships between object and user. They brought women into more dignified jobs and paved the way for equal workplaces the world over. The personal computer, in a design sense, can be thought of as an evolution of the typewriter…

Without the typewriter’s influence, it’s impossible to imagine the form the objects we use today might have taken on. Or if they’d even exist. And while not completely dead yet, it’s death is imminent, indeed. Should we fight for it, like Impossible did for Polaroid? Something tells me that wouldn’t amount to a typewriter revival…

Tag Christof – Images courtesy Olivetti, by George Rand, Ettore Sottsass and Giovanni Pintori