I hit an unexpected and unwelcome writing hiatus this past month when my netbook stopped working. I want to say that the netbook died or that it decided to quit on me, but that would be giving it a life and a sense of being that it doesn’t deserve, much as I loved it. (And I did love it.) And even saying that a machine doesn’t deserve something anthropomorphizes it.
It’s hard to resist the pull to see one’s writing implements as collaborators. Writing gets very tangled up for me with the mechanics by which it’s accomplished. There’s a practical aspect to this. I could write a book longhand. It’s not likely that I will. If you saw my handwriting, you would understand why I say this. This isn’t just about the scrawl, though. I’m not comfortable holding a pen for very long; it slows me down. I am happiest with writing technology that lets the words flow fast and lets me get out of my own way.
I don’t dismiss the idea that writing longhand does something useful for your brain. I would hate to see handwriting disappear as an art, a craft, or a skill that everybody acquires, at least in basic form. Handwriting preserves the uniqueness of a personality no matter what’s being said. It would be a shame to lose that. Someone with grown children told me not long ago that he wouldn’t recognize his kids’ handwriting if he saw it now, because he so rarely sees it.
For now, I’m making do with an iPad and a wireless keyboard. The combination works well enough–I’m writing this post with it–but it doesn’t feel like the long-term relationship I’m looking for. The ghost of the typewriter, a unified machine that creates a direct (and physical) connection between brain, fingers, and words on a page, won’t leave me alone. There’s a lot to distrust about the cult of technology, no matter how lovely and sleek that technology is. Consumer fetishism is not creativity.
But tools are not just tools. They do take a on a sort of life, at least in the mind of the person using them. Whatever machine replaces my late lamented netbook, I hope it has the soul I’m looking for. RIP, little netbook, you served me well.