Saturday, September 24, 2016

An IBM Executive & Albert Borgmann

I was recently in Chicago for a few days for a conference, and on the way I passed through a suburb where someone had advertised this 1955 IBM Executive for $40 on Craigslist. It's in near-perfect condition.




I can't say the typewriter is a beauty, but its typeface is:



More information on IBM typefaces can be found on Ted Munk's site. Here are some proportional typefaces. Mine is type mark PO.







Meanwhile, I'm teaching a philosophy of technology course in which we are reading Albert Borgmann's 1984 book Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. His basic idea is that the typical technological pattern makes commodities easily available while obscuring the underlying mechanism that delivers the commodities; this tends to encourage a consumerist lifestyle that is alienated from nature, craft, and other people. Disturbingly, he argues that liberal democracy tends toward this superficial, technological way of life because in order to maximize freedom, we have to dissolve our ties to more substantial, committed ways of relating to society and to things. This line of thought inspired the following ditty.




The following thought, which I copied on my MBM (Consul), seems especially appropriate to typewriters.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

The geography of American mechanographomania


Through Amazon, I have access to some partial data on the market for my book. Its sales are nothing to write home about by commercial standards, although they would be strong for an academic book. The Typewriter Revolution is usually ranked in Amazon's top 100,000 titles, which I suppose is all right out of millions.

More interesting is the above map showing how the book has sold in the US. Presumably, sales of this book should line up pretty well with the amount of interest there is in typewriters in an area.

The map holds a few surprises:

Portland, Oregon, where I stayed for two weeks in summer 2015, gives the impression of having a high typewriter-to-person ratio, but sales have not been fabulous there.

Denver has been much stronger, even though I am aware of only a couple of collectors there.

Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida, has also been an excellent market, surely thanks to Tampa Type, a project of stationery shop The Paper Seahorse. Stationers and typewriters are a great combination; recently I've been working with the owner of a paper shop in Columbus, Ohio who is starting to sell typewriters.

The book is also doing well in Washington, DC, where nearly as many copies have sold as in New York.

My publisher hoped that The Typewriter Revolution would be a surprise hit, but the surprise did not come to pass, despite a great run of interviews and book signings. It may get a little boost from the film California Typewriter. My hope is that word of mouth will keep it going, and it will eventually become a classic for all participants in the necessarily-small typewriter insurgency. Once you give up unrealistic dreams of fame, there is something very satisfying about being able to provide fuel to a rebellion that smolders silently, individually, out of the digital limelight—but which, I believe, has real benefits for its participants and, indirectly, for the larger culture.