Flickr Text: “Writing Machines”

Photo by Jimmy Hilario, flickr id: stitch
qwerty, uploaded by stitch

The Writing Machines Pool isn’t a jacuzzi designed by Kate Hayles - it is collection of photos featuring typewriters, printing presses, and block type. The Pool is hosted by the online photo-sharing and photo-tagging community Flickr, whose “pools” are user-curated collections of photos with commonalities that often transcends their tag metadata - a certain quality, attitude, or outlook.

The Writing Machines Pool is themed around “mechanical reproduction and the creation of the written word” - and the terms ‘Machine’ and ‘mechanical’ seem to have inspired an industrial, retro aesthetic on the part of contributors. Top tags is the pool include:

  • typewriter
  • manual
  • mechanical
  • vintage
type by yolise
type, uploaded by yolise

Yet where in digital text you would find algorithm permeating form and content, in moveable type you find mechanism, such as the relentless progression of substitutions in yolise’s photo of a print block from the Cambridge Museum of Technology. The full block reads:
Tags: , , ,

Rags make Paper
Paper makes Money
Money makes Banks
Banks make Loans
Loans make Beggars
Beggars make Rags

…a quote that makes one big writing machine out of all society and economy.

Looking around my house, I see that it is full of little writing machines: my printer, my cup of mechanical pencils, my spiral bound notebooks, and my “hipster PDA” index card packets - near the carcass of my old stylus PDA, with batteries long dead. My (text-messaging) cell phone.

Oh, and my laptop. Of course.

Why do I love these old photos so much? Established writing technologies (like the pencil) tend to become ubiquitous and then invisible - no longer registering as machines on our technological radar, they vanish into the background of daily life. However, at our current high speed of technological change, many old writing technologies (like the typewriter) fall out of general use and become antique - and thus visible again, their metal levers and drums catching and holding my eye. This explains why there are no PowerBooks or ThinkPads in Writing Machines, but there is a Timex Sinclair 1000 ad.

Of course, one could question whether the Timex is a writing machine - it has letter keys, but the keys are also marked by other symbols, other indications of many non-writing functions.

One of the hallmarks of early industrial writing machines like the printing press and the typewriter was a tight coupling of the letter block or key (”Q”) to the printed letter (”Q”). With computers, contemporary keyboards are saddled with communicating a much wider range of intentionality. The significance of my X key changes several times a minute as I work - sometimes several times a second. The key and the character are decoupled, and only occasionally does X signify the inscription of the letter X on a blank space rather than cutting text, closing a program, navigating backwards, etc., etc….

1 Response to “Flickr Text: "Writing Machines"”

  1. 1 Industrial Machine

    the old school look is pretty cool. kind makes everything look like an old newspaper or something.

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