Burn the Paperless Office

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There's a good light piece in American Heritageabout the "myth of the paperless office"–an unfulfilled utopian ideal of a few decades ago (and a personal favorite of my high school typing teacher who, doubtless displacing her self-hatred, used to go on and on about how typewriters would soon disappear from the face of the Earth).

"One might have well have dreamed a century ago of the typewriter?s making the pencil obsolete," writes Frederick E. Allen, who makes the larger, and important, point that technologies tend to supplement one another (think radio and television).

NEXT: Didion vs. Sullivan

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  1. The typewriter may not have replaced the pencil, but computers are going a long way towards elminating typewriters. We still have one in our office, just for typing shipping labels and envelopes. Of course, you can do this with printers now but in our case it’s easier than trying to get envelopes and labels squenced properly into the network printers.

    I think the nostalgia market may be the final resting place of many old technologies. At Restoration Hardware, for example, you can buy a leather-bound portable 45 record player and some old reprints of 45s of the type that were popular in the 1950’s. They are brand new and manufactured to look like and work like the original models. I imagine at some point someone will buy up old typewriter tooling and assembly equipment and start making some for this type of collector interest.

    My dad told me this story about throwing his two old typewriters out in the trash. He had an old monster typewriter from the 1960’s, with a gunmetal-blue finish and the imposing rounded metal housing, and one of the ‘new’ electronic self-correcting ball-types from the 1980s. Some dumpster diver scooped up the 60’s vintage unit within the hour but the electronic one had to make its way to oblivion with the banana peels, milk cartons and other refuse. To appeal to those desirous of outdated technology, it helps to look the part.

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