This week in the MAL I spent some time with an old typewriter, the 1956 Olympia de Luxe. Although this particular brand and model is more than half a century older than the original Remington typewriters, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for individuals to trade in their pencils and pens for this unusual contraption—this intermediate thing “between a tool and a machine” (Kittler 14). As Kittler points out, the typewriter was the first technology to insert space between the writer and text during the act of production. For many, this spatial insertion felt artificial and cumbersome, and Kittler gestures toward the lamentable loss of identity that one maintains when composing a letter in manual handwriting (not because Kittler feels this way but because it was a common reaction). The split in reactions toward the typewriter around 1900 remind me of a current split in cognitive science that we read about for Sue Zemka’s course on the human hand. Embedded cognition theorists propose that the act of thinking is produced and generated strictly within the mind and can be communicated by the hands, only as a secondary action. Extended cognitive theorists, on the other hand, believe that extensions of the body, primarily the hands, actually aid and cooperate with the cognitive processes to the degree that body and mind can never be separated.
Such an anti-Cartesian theory of cognition raises compelling questions when you are sitting in front of a typewriter. Can the machine actually generate a particular kind of thinking pattern that may differ, say, when sitting in front of a pen and ink, or a MacBook Air? How does each variation in writing technology affect the mind of the writer, to the point where cognitive processes actually change from machine to machine? And perhaps in an effort to end the debate and begin a discussion—Is it less a question of good versus bad and more a question of style and desired results?