My gramophone. My Film. My typewriter.


The way that I compose has become disjointed, disoriented, dysphonic. I used to write long-hand, and I had a gigantic bump on my right middle finger to prove it. My nail there did not grow out the same way as my other nails. This of course, was a reason to chew it off. I wrote so much that I had a permanent cramp in my hand, and now I have a little arthritis in my thumb.

Every essay, every tutorial paper, every seminar paper, every long preceptorial essay was first handwritten on yellow legal pads. It was revised, annotated, rearranged, and then finally typed. My first typewriter was a Brother typewriter that had a teeny tiny screen that held about three pages worth of elite pitch words. If my essay was longer than three pages, it got whacked out three pages at a time. The finality of typing is different from the temporary print button. If I changed a word that was long enough, it would change the layout of the entire page, which would change the layout of the next page, and soon a complete revision was in order. The pages that I saved were saved only in hard copy. There was not enough memory on the Brother to save a paper, let alone a semester’s worth of work. My words were physical, not ephemeral electronic impulses. I could not backspace over them, eradicate my error, correct it, and move on. I had to use an eraser strip, back up over the erroneous word, type over it, whiting it out, and whack out the new word. I found that the organization of my papers was meticulous, diligent, beautiful; I felt myself crafting something, not producing something.

Now, when I write electronically, I find that the quality of my writing is not nearly as exacting as my handwriting. It is easier, however, to manipulate my voice, my tone, my personality. My persona. The person that I am on twitter in 140 characters is not the person that I am on facebook, is not the person that I am in emails, is not the person that I am in person. The distance that we have from each other is vast, here in the world of the gramophone, the film, and the typewriter. What had been a point of direct contact is now a distance away.

The distance between ourselves and the electronic self is immediate and mediate. The face is there, the person is there, the place is there, on the screen in a second’s second. The photograph is not. It is mediated by ones and zeros, by distant servers interconnected and linked with miles of fiber optic cable, wireless data waves, satellite signals. The Library of Congress puts the American Memory Project at our disposal, and we can go back to Truchas, NM, back to Trampas, back to Silver City. Somewhere, an FSA photographer made those photos, and now here they are, for everyone to see, and then forget. Maybe they’ll be part of a MOOC someday.

But they aren’t Aunt Joyce as a baby sitting on Granma’s handlebars in front of the CCC camp in Silver City. They aren’t photographs of that day in Taos with the sun filtering through the trees on the the lift. They aren’t a bobcat named baby Baby sitting on Granny Hall’s lap. They can’t be handed back and handed down and shoved in a drawer. As the family archivist, my job is to catalog the memories of the family, to organize the photographs in albums and conserve the negatives. I order reprints from Camera and Darkroom, and ask for prints, not digital copies when a cousin requests them. I don’t send out DVDs.

Where are our voices, images, and music going to go without us to conserve them? Who will get a copy of my iTunes catalog? Who will download all of the photos in my computer, that I neglected to save anywhere else? Somehow, we have fooled ourselves into believing this totality of digitization is totality, and it isn’t. Its impermanence is its totality.

6 thoughts on “My gramophone. My Film. My typewriter.

  1. I have such a hard time letting go of my old drafting habits. Although I was born after typewriter years, I did always hand write my papers until college. I loved drafting and revising in my notebook before typing everything up. It was like a special kind of magic to me. It made me feel like I was a “real” writer, because I always envisioned writers sitting at their desks writing with their quills and ink like in the olden days (though I think I would be awful at writing with a quill). I’m not saying that typing things today makes us not “real” writers, it’s just interesting to think of how much writing has evolved over time.

    Enjoyed this piece!

  2. ❤ this. As my brothers and sister and I sift through my dad's things, I can see my archivist nature coming through. I can't bear to scan things and then let them go, even when I agree with them that having a digital copy saves clutter. I have two dead hard drives at home that hold my children's entire childhoods. Some of my favorite memories are not of being IN these pictures of my dad's, but of being told the stories of them, over and over, holding them in my hands. The tangible article, it seems to me, makes it somehow more precious. And more real.

    There was a time that I was telling a story to a friend, about something that my family did, how I remembered certain parts of it. And going through the pictures, I found a photo of the event. I wasn't in it. Judging from my brothers and sisters ages, I wasn't even alive. But I saw that picture and heard that story so much that it was a part of my childhood too. There is something that feels very 1 + 1 = 4 to me. There is something more than just a photo and a story when they're combined.

  3. This is a beautiful message examining the purpose of technology and how we still need physical documentation of and more importantly internal documentation of a time before technology reformatted our documents, a time when a pencil was the only technology for composing essays. I have to admit I smiled considering all of the cramps and my own writer’s bump that still hasn’t disappeared even after adjusting my writing style to relieve the pressure off that one point. i won’t forget organizing my research into note cards. Those were the times where we weren’t reliant on technology yet still got things done. It’s history is important to acknowledge and to examine and to realize how it has penetrated and permeated many aspects of our life.

    Technology serves a purpose, but we will not let go of those times where we search through our grandparents’ photo albums searching for an answer to a missing chapter in their lives that they never got to telling us. Those documents and artifacts are important and like you said, “it’s impermanence is its totality.” Thank you for sharing an important part of your life with us as well. This post was deeply personal, and taking a glimpse that you have offered helps me reflect on my family’s past as well.

  4. I also started by crafting papers by hand. What I recall about the process is the distinct way in which it honed my writing skilll. Instead of being able to instantly revise, handwriting forced me to craft a sentence in my mind and write it fully, all at once. As most writers would likely agree, I hate revision. Because of that, I worked much more diligently to craft an argument and do it right the first time, instead of mishmashing and reordering paragraphs on a screen.

    Of course, word processing was sold to me in junior high school as a way to get around all that “hard” handwriting, the result being that not only were my papers expected to be “better,” the sheer volume of them went up. Technology facilitates production, even at the lowest levels.

  5. Maybe this is why, despite their power, our present technologies cannot truly become subjects (so Kittler misses the mark somewhat). We cannot control their effects once we set them into motion but if we do not set them in motion, then those photos and songs remain silent.

    They possess the potentiality to be encoded or decoded but they do not do so themselves. So, it seems, history and poetry haven’t totally vanished.

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