After reading about Renée’s adventures with the Altair 8800b, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own experiences at the MAL last week. I’d spent Wednesday morning preoccupied by a travel grant application, trying to write a convincing argument about why I deserve to get paid to read old books in faraway libraries. After several hours writing, cutting, and pasting, I was left with an unsatisfying three sentences. As usual, I’d been paralyzed by the importance of the project and rendered incapable of putting words on the page. I left for the MAL in my frustration, hoping that playing with Google Glass might stimulate my creative faculties, or at least provide a much-needed distraction.
Like Angie, I found my experience with Glass slightly underwhelming, probably due to my inability to look at both screen and outside world at the same time. I think what’s supposed to make this gadget cool is it’s ability to superimpose the Google interface into your direct line of sight so that you’re looking at the world through it, but I couldn’t help continuing to view them separately. The Glass blocked my vision rather than augmenting it, though perhaps with more use I’d adapt to this. After all, it took me 2 months to make the transition from Blackberry to iPhone keyboards without hitting multiple letters at once.
Craving something more analogue after my experience with Glass, I turned to the Olympia De Luxe Typewriter. I have to echo Renée here when I say that this machine really put up a fight. Assuming that loading paper would be self-explanatory, I didn’t check for instructions. I think my incorrect assumption is indicative of our standardized and commodified “user friendly” electronics, where using an iPad, iPhone, or MacBook for the first time feels instinctive. Not so with Ms. Olympia De Luxe, who continually resisted my efforts to unriddle her.
Finally managing to load paper, I set to typing. I began the experience with Parikka’s text in mind, aware that the possibilities of what I could create on the typewriter were limited by the technological constraints of the machine itself. This proved partially correct, as I was obviously unable to alter text once it was printed on the page. Putting ink on the page initially felt limiting in its tangibility and permanence – there was no going back after pressing a key. However, as I continued to write, I found that the finitude of ink on page had an advantage: I was forced to construct complete, meaningful sentences before putting them on paper.
Of course, compared to the seemingly endless possibilities for writing and editing offered by modern Word processors, the typewriter was limited. Yet, in the knowledge that what I put on the page would stay on the page, I began to think before writing each word, resulting in cohesive, thoughtful prose. Taking another stab at my grant proposal, I found that the slower pace of writing offered by Olympia forced me to collect my thoughts before putting them to paper and improved the quality of my writing.
I don’t mean to suggest that it’s better to write on a typewriter, or that the finished product turns out any better with this technology, but I do think my experience with Olympia says much about the limitations – or seeming lack thereof – of modern Word processors. In my case, at least, the overwhelming possibilities of what can appear on the page sometimes prevent me from writing anything. Once something does get written, I can’t stop editing and rewriting until the inevitable deadline, and who’s to say that the resulting product is any better than it’d be on a typewriter? Paradoxically, even when technologies promise endless creative possibilities, we are subject to their limitations.