As Richard Polt announced today, Paradigm Shifts: Typewritten Tales of Digital Collapse came out this week. It’s a tremendous success, but I would like to qualify what I mean by that. How we define success is at the heart of the issue. The book, along with its sibling volume, Escapements: Typewritten Tales from Post-Digital Worlds (coming out in a few days), is the result of a convergence of creative minds, visions, and efforts. Like any collection of works, it began with an idea. Then came the call for submissions.
There was a vigorous and efficient editorial process, and decisions of various kinds had to be made based on thematic criteria, deadlines, and polish. Many great submissions did not get through the final stage for various reasons, but it was clear, regardless of what did and did not make it into the book, that many great stories were inspired by the project and, hopefully, those stories will continue to flourish.
The process described thus far is standard for the production and publication of collections of stories, poems, or essays–and there was success to be had here. What makes the project a unique success, however, is its incorporation of craftsmanship. All submissions, barring some artwork, were created on typewriters. Most were manual. Others were electronic. All were typewriters.
Why bother with this nuisance? Why would the medium of production have any bearing on the final result? There is no point to answering that question, because the only way to understand the answer is by doing: try using a typewriter. Still, I shall try to answer. A typewriter, as a machine designed specifically for the act of writing, engages the mind and body in ways that focus mental attention and cultivate careful thought. Think. Then do. Find the groove and then keep going. Move forward. Develop ideas. Attend to local edits later. The typewriter reminds writers that writing is a process of revision, drafts after draft. To be sure, disciplined writers can get there in other ways, but the physical and sensorial experience of typing on a typewriter particularly focuses the mind. (Mindfulness is the buzzword we hear today.)
In the end, all typewritten submissions were scanned, laying bare the idiosyncratic presence of the writer: some dropped letters here and there, variation in ink imprint based on how hard the typist struck the key, and so on. The stamp of individuality and non-reproducibility is recorded. Yes, once the 300 dpi scans were made, the aura of the original is gone. In the end, everything was digitized so that Amazon could print-to-order. This is a transformation of mediums: ink on paper, digitized image, and then the return to paper form for readerly consumption.
The book, along with its theme, is not a repudiation of the digital world; but it does offer much food for thought. How do we find balance in our worlds split between physical existence and digital engagement? In the last few years, numerous studies have drawn our attention to the detrimental ways in which smartphones hijack our attention. Our experience of being becomes thin and fractured–as if we are missing files in our neural records: smartphones on romantic dates, at family dinner tables, in classrooms, and in innumerable situations we wanted to treasure. Experience is chronicled through social media posts but not in our living moments. On the other hand, our new technologies also can deepen experience if used judiciously and deliberately. We have now come to a time in which many people have realized that they need to rethink their habits. Perhaps, after deep reflection and rigorous self-programming of habits, we can find the balance–or perhaps we shall have to self-consciously recorrect our behaviors on a daily basis. Some of us reduce our technologies. Others, whose jobs require these technologies, have to find other tricks. Part of the lesson is that we are learning how our own brains work, and brutal honesty needs to be part of that realization. We can’t do whatever we want whenever we want.
So, back to Cold Hard Type. This work, both physical and digital, is an organic hybrid of creative thought produced through collaboration–a convergence of independent thought. It is, to my mind, wholly unique. I look forward to meditating on its creative and philosophical worlds for years to come. Oh, and part of its success is that it is so affordable. Is it anti-capitalist? No. It is more like a celebration of creative value. Not every part of us can be commodified. Art, literature, love–the treasures we share with the world–exist before money. They are a priori, in a market sense. The success of the book is creative, social, and intimately human.
Okay, if you want a copy, Amazon.com does need to make some money to print the book. Yours for $6.86: https://www.amazon.com/Paradigm-Shifts-Typewritten-Digital-Collapse/dp/1097972631/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=typewritten+tales&qid=1559249836&s=books&sr=1-1