I’ve just seen a thing.
I don’t know what to make of it. I’m very much of two minds.
I’ve had my say about typewriters before. I think they’re cute and quaint and entirely impractical for any writer to be using to do any real writing in the — and I say this with no irony whatsoever, except for the implicit — modern era. I stand by that wholeheartedly. When you consider the gamut of writing devices, a machine that uses paper, has no means to erase or edit on the fly, and that cannot multitask in any way, shape, or form, is simply an inferior alternative to any device which can, you know, backspace, or fit in your pocket, or at least your carry-on.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a certain romantic nostalgia about typewriters. The sounds they make as you click away at their keys are soothing and hypnotic — much more so than the impersonal muffled thumps that issue from the plastic construction of a laptop or a multi-function bluetooth keyboard. And, you know, the greats wrote on typewriters, or something like that. So there’s hero emulation thrown in there to boot. I see the draw, even if it doesn’t measure up to even the flimsiest of word processors.
But then tonight, I see this. The Hemingwrite.
It’s a word processor stuffed into the body of a typewriter analog. It syncs wirelessly and automatically with backup services like google docs and Evernote (which I love). It has weeks and weeks of battery life. It’s about the size of a very large book, or a very small chessboard. It’s adorable. And all it lets you do is write.
It looks like much of what I love about WriteMonkey (my drafting software of choice) literally crammed into a box that lets you write without the distractions of the wily internet and whatever apps you have chiming and sucking your life away. And my Id-Writer stops slavering, looks out through the bars of his cage toward this unassuming little box, and ponders.
I can’t decide if I love or hate this idea.
The pendulum swings in favor of this thing initially. It’s undoubtedly brilliant. There are, I have no doubt, scads of writers and would-be writers, their heads clouded with that romantic image of Hemingway bent over a buzzing machine, the keys clattering into the night, who will happily throw money at the manufacturers of this thing just for the chance to ape the greats while still maintaining the creature comforts of cloud backups and wireless syncing. The Hemingwrite website, which has only been up for a few months, overtly states that the creators are overwhelmed by the response already, and they’re not even past the prototyping phases yet. This thing is going to sell like crazy to people wanting one for themselves, let alone as gifts for the writerly types out there.
But is it necessary? I mean, my laptop automatically backs up my work as I write and is just as portable as this little gadget. It also allows me to browse the web, watch movies, play games, and you know, anything else you can do with a fully-powered computer. For that matter, it allows me — with the use of the proper programs — to have the same uninterrupted, distraction-free writing experience that the Hemingwrite seeks to provide, minus of course the vaguely romantic notion of typing on a typewriter that’s not really a typewriter.
But there’s something to that, isn’t there? The feel of creating on something that’s not a do-it-all magic box. They say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have (though that’s perhaps a bad idea if you’re a businessman who wants to be an ice fisher), and doesn’t this gizmo allow you to advertise to the world that “I AM A WRITER” in a way that no simple laptop can? And isn’t writing all about being in the proper mindset to create? By extension, then, if this tool helps you, in any small way, to get a little bit closer to the zone, isn’t it worth the trouble?
And then my pendulum swings the other way again, because don’t I — don’t we, as Americans (make no mistake, this is for Americans, much as I hate the “we as fill-in-the-blank” construction) — have enough stuff already? Part of the romance of writing (and I’m overusing the word “romance” in this little entry, I now realize, but fargo it, it cuts both ways) is the simplicity of it. From the blank screen, the blank page, the flashing cursor on the screen, I craft worlds and people and plots and MacGuffins and really wild things. If I’m a writer, I already have a computer or laptop to help me do those things. Do I need another thing on my desk to help me do the same things? I’m not sure I do. In fact, I’m pretty sure I don’t. I have enough of a headache working on two different computers in two different settings; I can only imagine the frustration of getting all keyed-in and in love with this little machine and then having to haul it back and forth from home to work. And then forgetting it and having to work on my laptop anyway. Or finding room for it on my already cluttered desks. And justifying to myself and my wife the existence of this thing which doesn’t really do anything for me that the stuff I already had isn’t capable of doing.
Then again, it looks like they’ll offer it in Georgia Bulldog Red.
I think it’s a fascinating little thing. I’m sure it will help writers if only in a Placebo Effect, I’m-becoming-a-better-writer-because-I-feel-like-a-writer kind of way. But the more I think about it, the more it feels like too much novelty, not enough practicality. I think I’d love to test-drive one, but I definitely can’t see buying one for myself, unless, when they finally get around to selling these things, the price tag ends up in the realm of the ridiculously low. Based on the hype around this thing, though, I’d be shocked if it goes for less than $80, and I even think that might be optimistic on my part.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh on the little Hemingwrite, which for all intents and purposes hasn’t even been born yet?