From handwriting to typewriting

Since the discovery of the first handwritten script by Sumerian in 3500 BC, writing has served as a form of communication developed from oral recording to visual-textual history. Writing is a technology that it utilizes tools and equipment, such as papyrus, silk, paper, brush, quill, and pen.

1However, in 1874, the first typewriter was introduced as an alternative technology to communicate and write. Typewriting modifies the visual and texture of writing. Since each letter typed by the machine is identical and uniform, while handwriting produces variation in shape and size denoting human creation. As a new technology, typewriting changes social structures and the form of communication.

In Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society, Manuel Castells discusses the flexibility and adaptability of networks that are enhanced by new information/ communication technologies (p 15). Typewriting as a continuous developing network alters the history of recording and is leading to a new level of technology development.

The network of typewriting changes aesthetics and authenticity of the text. With standardized margins, spacing, font, and color, typewritten text carry distinctive characteristics that handwriting can hardly create spontaneously. In addition, the technological noise from the typing keyboard has an authoritative sound, which serves as a constant reminder of the writing process. The technology of the typewriter/ keyboard altered the tactile relationship with the writing process.

The network of typewriting has become more signification and popular than the network of handwriting. Operating a keyboard is easy and efficient: all you have to do is press the right key. Pens and keyboards use very different media. The purpose of writing is cognitive automaticity, “the ability to think as fast as possible, freed as much as can be from the strictures of whoever technology we must use to record our thoughts” (Trubek, 2014). Typewriting achieves the purpose of writing and does faster than handwriting, but for the opposite reason: we want more time to think. Additionally, the network of typewriting has been expanding with new communication technologies: from typewriter to computer keyboards, from standard sized keyboards to portable keyboards, from the physical keyboard to virtual keyboard. The convenience of typewriting devices has exceeded handwriting technologies.

The network of typewriting has impacts on the social structure and social status formation. During the late 19th century, typewriter replaced handwriting for business communications for increased efficiency and productivity. During this time, women began to join the workforce, mostly as secretaries and members of typing pools.woman-with-her-typewriter Although women did not share equal status to men or afford their independence, the introduction of women into the business world of men altered social structures that the notion of women started to have a job outside the house was “part of the humble beginnings of the 20th-century feminism” (Acocella, 2007).

However, Castell does not put any emphasis on cultural influence on the network along with the technology development. The cultural elements embedded in languages are losing values in typewriting technologies. Languages are non-alphabetical based, such as Chinese, Japanese and Arabic, can only be typed with pronunciations instead of the handwriting process which consists of lines, curls, and symbols. The aura of handwriting is lost in typewriting. Since typewriting is fast and easy to learn, new generations are more familiar with typing text on their devices rather than handwriting, the unique culture of writing language is fading gradually in the typed-up age.

As Castell points out “some nodes are more important than others…nodes increase their importance by absorbing more information and processing it more efficiently. If they decline in their performance, other nodes take over their tasks” (p 16). The network of handwriting is barely catching up with typewriting, as typewriting provides higher efficiency, convenience, and easiness. After all, typewriting is based on handwriting that the network of handwriting cannot and should not be replaced by typewriting, in terms of cultural preservation. They are both important nodes in the boarder network of communication throughout human civilization.



Acocella, J. (2007), The typing life: How writers used to write. The New Yorker. April 9, 2007. Retrieved from…/070409crbo_books_acocella

Turbeck, A. (2009). Handwriting is history. Miller-McCune, December 2009. Retrieved from…/handwriting-is-history-6540/


1 Comment

  1. These are some very interesting points! The decrease in handwriting because of the invention of the typewriter made me think of the reduced use of physical books with the rapid growth of e-books, online sources, and audio books. How many of you check-out books from the library still? Or can confidently say you understand the Dewey Decimal System—the most common system used to organize and classify books within a library. I know I still do! It seems that almost all media outlets now have some sort of online or downloadable version available to them. Newspapers, phone books, books and articles can all be found online with ease by anyone who has access to a computer and the internet. Printed technologies are slowly being replaced by an online world, showing another example of how human practices influence and change the technologies of our time. Hard-cover books can be seen for their novelty and are now being further commoditized. Just as typing is viewed to be more efficient and convenient, e-books and audio books are following the same trend. Yet, the importance cultural material, such as, physical books hold a cultural heritage and significance that digital information cannot replace.

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