As digital publishing continues to grow and monopolise print, why are traditional processes becoming fashionable again?

We’ve all seen the loop before, maybe even been part of it. After the success of a new technology the preceding tech becomes fashionable again. This is happening right now with typewriters and touch screens.

digital publishing

Touch screens have been developing since the 80’s, and are now in a position in which we use them on a daily basis; but just as we’re getting comfortable and complacent with the flat, interactive surfaces, a new trend is growing. With Tom Hanks’ new US-only app ‘Hanx Writer’ users can relive the typewriter experience via touchscreen, complete with rolling paper graphics and clunky noises.

Hanks isn’t the first person to come up with a typewriter-tablet hybrid idea; The USB typewriter launched in 2009, but unlike Hanks’ in-device typewriter, USB typewriters are real typewriters you hook up to your iPad.

So why are we so obsessed with taking new technologies back in time? I put it down to three reasons.

So why are we so obsessed with taking new technologies back in time? I put
it down to three reasons.


The concept of a typewriter is a novel one these days; we don’t use them out of necessity anymore, instead for fun as a quirky novelty. They aren’t the norm, so therefore become more interesting to us as an experience.


With each big movement comes a corresponding rebellion; mods had rockers, hippies had punks and the digital age has steampunk. With its brass tones and victorian-look steampunk rebels against sleek and minute modern
technologies by embracing the clunky mechanics and technology of the industrial revolution. Whilst not everyone that uses Hanks typewriter app is a goggle-clad hardcore steampunker; just like other rebellions, aspects of steampunk (like typewriters) are seeping into mainstream culture and being watered down for the masses.


As our world becomes evermore contactless – credit cards and voice command being two examples – sometimes we find ourselves wanting physical interaction with objects. We are not robots, we have senses and the best experiences often involve all of them. Yes, whilst touch screens involve an element of interaction (as the name suggests), the cold flat surface doesn’t fulfil human desire to feel textures and make full use of our hands.

Thus an experience like the typewriter, with it’s glorious clunky components and exaggerated human movement requirement, fills the need we have to make full use of our touch sense.

“All we have to believe is our senses: the tools we use to perceive the world, our sight, our touch, our memory. If they lie to us, then nothing can be trusted.”
– Neil Gaiman, American Gods

With the combination of its physical nature, novelty and rebellious feel, the typewriter is making a comeback; companies are doing well to incorporate it into new technologies. As digital publishing lovers we ought to recognise the importance of the typewriter and embrace an idea that challenges publishing in new ways.


Cover image ©r. nial bradshaw (CC BY 2.0)

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