There has been much buzz online recently about the prototype Hemingwrite typewriter . This is an internet-enabled device deliberately hamstrung so as to deny the writer distraction. It also, in the obvious resonance of its name as well as its design, attempts to conjure a pre-internet romance. It evokes, perhaps, the unplugged whisky-chugging foreign correspondent, or the butcher-roll beat typist.
Actually, it reminds me of the last gasp range of electronic typewriters that overlapped the first PCs — the sort with a little LCD buffer that gave you a Twitter’s-breadth of space in which to catch and correct your errors. A doomed attempt to innovate in the face of word processors and desktop publishing packages and their inexorable typewriter-killing rise.
This machine both speaks to our anxieties about attention span and stokes our nostalgia. The fact that a netbook or a phone and keyboard arrangement can easily achieve the same functionality suggests, in fact, that the device is almost solely about its design, and what its design says about its user. My user is a real writer, it says. She does not play Angry Birds. Except on her smart phone. When no-one is looking.
UPDATE – A nice piece in The Observer about this — mentioning some of the more popular distraction-killing apps for writers and, somewhat tangentially, the problem of mining the digital archives of deceased writers.