Sensing the Typewriter

Sunday, March 9th, 2014 by angelarovak

The further I dive into this material the less I trust my own senses. What I see and hear don’t appear to be what actually exists, and trying to ponder what actually exists in terms of these different media seems a fruitless endeavor as well. My befuddlement only increased while reading McLuhan’s section “The Medium is the Message.” If “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium (McLuhan 10) then the scrambled, out of order, even repeating content of the (corrupted?) McLuhan file only solidifies this basic concept. What was being said, the content, the words as print as phonetics as sound, didn’t matter as much as the medium of transmission. I could not be a passive reader participating in “subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact” (28), and at the very least the reading experience made me more alert and aware of the mediated communication.

This reading practice resonated with me experiences in the MAL this week where I spent some time on the Olympia typewriter from 1956. Originally for this blog I intended to include the typed page and an edited transcript, but such an inclusion would emphasize the content of the writing instead of the message of the medium. Most of the content focuses on the experience of typing, both psychologically and physically for me, the user, as well as recording the limitations of the device. It took me several lines of focused counting to deduce that the typewriter would allow 60 characters per line before stalling, and the ding would sound with 9 characters to go. By engaging these multiple senses, as well as a new tactile experience of the tiered keyboard, the boundaries between myself and machine seemed to dissolve. What I was typing seemed irrelevant, I was searching for the experience of typing on this medium that changed both my approach and my thoughts. The auditory noise of the keys, a dramatic version of the clicks of the keys on my laptop keyboard, in conjunction with the warning ding, and the heightened awareness of hearing the dreaded double-space (which you cannot feel or really predict), seems to change the relationship between the “eye” and the “ear” as theorized by McLuhan. While the phonetic alphabet catalyzed a “stark division and parallelism between a visual and an auditory world” (95), this analysis appears overly focusing on the content. The medium, the typewriter, parallels the visual and auditory world unlike any other writing technology. It is a device predicated on the phonetic alphabet and creates an immersed experience of multiple human senses. While McLuhan argues that the “[l]iterate man undergoes much separation of his imaginative, emotional, and sense life” (100), literate in this instance meaning adhering to a phonetic written language, it appears that the typewriter helps to bring these aspects back together.

While he may not advance the ideas, McLuhan presents the poetical belief in “the power of the typewriter to help the poet to indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspension, even, of syllables, the juxtaposition, even, of parts of phrases which he intends” (286). From my experiences this week I would be keen to agree with this sentiment. The human quality of typing on a typewriter is different than other methods, the medium truly is mediating the writing experience. The typist has the opportunity to engage with the medium without much concern over the final product, the content. As typewriters “altered English verse and prose, and indeed, the very mental habits, themselves, of writers” (287), it seems to be an ideal medium to investigate and elaborate upon the notion that “the medium is the message.”

I chose the typewriter this week to experiment on in order to consolidate ideas for my final project. By mapping its capabilities I discovered the means and methods of transposing the content of my messages, but perhaps now I see that shouldn’t exactly be my intention. What the typewriter offers cannot be condensed to the characters stamped on a page. Its involvement in my final project will hopefully reflect the medium and not merely the message.


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