September 1, 2011 10:55 AM   Subscribe

The typewriter lives on in India. 'India's typewriter culture survives the age of computers in offices where bureaucracy demands typed forms and in rural areas where many homes don't have electricity.'

'The factories that make the machines may be going silent, but India's typewriter culture remains defiantly alive, fighting on bravely against that omnipresent upstart, the computer. (In fact, if India had its own version of "Mad Men," with its perfumed typing pools and swaggering execs, it might not be set in the 1960s but the early 1990s, India's peak typewriter years, when 150,000 machines were sold annually.)

Credit for its lingering presence goes to India's infamous bureaucracy, as enamored as ever of outdated forms (often in triplicate) and useless procedures, documents piled 3 feet high and binders secured by pink string.'

'"Typewriters were a real symbol of Indian life. Just consider how many laws and birth certificates came from its keys," said Abhishek Jain, who at age 13 set a world record in 1991 typing 117 words a minute on a Godrej manual.'

'"The computer is lifeless, but there's a sheer joy in manual typing," said Jain, the record-holder. "It's a kind of music.

"Bicycles survived after cars. Why not typewriters? Let there be free choice, I say."'
posted by VikingSword (27 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
There's also another issue: the power grids there are incredibly unstable and the lines have a huge amount of noise on them. If you were to plug a modern-day computer directly into the wall, it would die within the month from constantly tripping safety circuits or potentially frying e.g. the processor. Most homes in the parts that I visited required these big power filters with built-in battery backup just to keep the computer running normally. Naturally, these issues drive up the cost, putting even low-cost computer out-of-reach.
posted by spiderskull at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can pry my two manual typewriters from my cold, dead hands.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 11:13 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

What typewriter is Kubrick using in the behind the scenes footage here (9:30 in)?
posted by cashman at 11:26 AM on September 1, 2011

You can pry my two manual typewriters from my cold, dead hands.

But, nobody will. Unless they're paramedics or something.
posted by longsleeves at 11:28 AM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

It makes me shudder a little to realize that the last time I used a typewriter for anything other than filling in blanks on a form requiring typewritten responses was more than 15 years ago, if not longer. There's something evanescent and lonely and noirish that I miss about them, though.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

See under: "Barton Fink," for starters.
posted by blucevalo at 11:48 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Going to high school in India, we actually had a compulsory typewriting class with actual typewriters. And I graduated from high school in 2003. It was strange, because I already knew how to type on our desktop at home and was quite fast. After banging away on the typewriters in class I had to watch my typing at home or I'd have been way too hard on the computer keyboard.
posted by peacheater at 12:00 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

The class was very relaxing though; we had a teacher who basically sat in a corner and did very little during the class. Most people typed asdfghjkl; over and over again. I got permission to type out stories from books, as I could already type.
posted by peacheater at 12:01 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was in Xela, Guatemala this summer and the sound of typewriters (and the occasional dot matrix printer) was omnipresent. There was a small office pool (clerical school, maybe?) down the street from my homestay (Av 19 & Diag 12) where they must have had ten typewriters going at any given time. Most of the city had electricity, but even second-hand computers were comparatively expensive in a country where even skilled workers pulled in about $8/day.
posted by The White Hat at 12:10 PM on September 1, 2011

Another challenge would be keeping a working printer to attach to a computer. A daisy wheel or dot matrix printer could at least handle multi-part forms.
posted by exogenous at 12:23 PM on September 1, 2011

As exemplified here.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:30 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Sometimes the monkeys steal the affidavits
posted by Renoroc at 12:31 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I still search my local Craigslist ever once in a while trying to find just the "right" manual typewriter (with a good ribbon and a better price). It isn't easy. Typewriters make my heart flutter, but I'm glad that using them is a choice, and not a necessity, over here.
posted by litnerd at 12:36 PM on September 1, 2011

My Dad's last job before he retired as an itinerant ink chemist was for Royal Typewriter, or "RoyType." I had a summer job in High School at the plant where they were making daisy wheels (look it up) and ribbon cartridges for the far east market. The customers were never satisfied.

No spool ribbons that I recall. I helped clean out the old brick typewriter factory accross town. Sorry, nothing memorable about it except we were underage and they bought us beer and let us drive forklifts.
posted by longsleeves at 12:58 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

US prisons are another place where typewriters live on. Some state prison systems permit only typewriters with clear cases to deter inmates from hiding contraband in the typewriters.
posted by zombiedance at 1:10 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's amazing to think what a huge expense a good typewriter was back in the old days. The famous IBM Selectric typewriter (as seen on Mad Men, etc) cost $395 in 1961, which equates to $2980 in 2011 dollars, and of course you'd have to factor in either a warranty or occasional repair costs.
posted by crapmatic at 1:22 PM on September 1, 2011

A top of the line Selectric was a high-powered business tool. At many tasks, the productivity of a Mad-Men era career secretary with a Selectric she finessed at 90 WPM would put to shame that of a modern administrative assistant with a computer, to say the least of that of a professional who no longer has any clerical support beyond a small fractional share of an office admin.

One thing I find interesting is how some workplaces which generate high returns from their professionals' time have basically eliminted secretaries (the case in my industry, finance) while other industries have made only slight reductions to the ratio of clerical to professional staff (law, for example). Then of course you have industries (like health care) where the ratio of clerical support to professionals has doubled or trebled, but that's not been in search of productivity, but due to changes in health insurance procedures.
posted by MattD at 1:54 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

> nothing memorable about it except we were underage and they bought us beer and let us drive forklifts.

Look buddy where I come from that's not only memorable, that's a PEN/O. Henry prize-winner.
posted by pts at 2:18 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

10 years ago, I worked in a library where one of our most prized pieces of technology was the only student-accessible typewriter on campus. They occasionally had paper forms that needed to be typed, and the university had gotten rid of too many typewriters. It was a little odd, but it served a need that literally could not be served elsewhere. I think fillable PDFs have probably put an end to its usefulness,but a lot of those can't be saved easily.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:28 PM on September 1, 2011

Unsurprisingly enough, India also has one of the last remaining carbon paper industries.
posted by plinth at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2011

I keep meaning to get a couple or three manual typewriters to put by just in case. I picked up a 1952 copy of Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas a few years back, which has instructions for re-inking typewriter ribbons and making carbon paper. I should probably scrounge around for a mimeograph as well.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:46 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok, blow your mind happily with this Bollywood fun. Typewriter tip, tip, tip. Really, India is so utterly lovable.

Always loved the street scribes in India, like these typists in Calcutta. Fun vid: Type Writer Usage in this COMPUTER ERA, in, I think, Malayalam.

The last company on earth to produce the typewriter — Godrej and Boyce — has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India, according to reports that, fittingly, are making the rounds via the Internet. (Some nice pics).
posted by nickyskye at 7:10 PM on September 1, 2011

The G-rated version of Rule 34: If it exists, there is a Bollywood film-song about it.
But typewriters can play dramatic roles as well. Careful girls, your SKP hookup could be... a closet typewriter!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:33 PM on September 1, 2011

Thank you for this post Viking Sword.
posted by infini at 8:50 PM on September 1, 2011

India's lingering love affair with correction fluid and carbon paper befits a country that often seems caught in two centuries, where high-tech companies and an ambitious space program coexist with human-powered rickshaws and feudal village life.

Reminds me of Ian McDonald's Sanjeev and the Robotwallahs
posted by infini at 9:55 PM on September 1, 2011

Damn you, Renoroc! *shakes fist*
posted by FormlessOne at 11:18 PM on September 1, 2011

The typewriter still lives on in Police departments around the USA, especially in NYC.
posted by Virtblue at 2:38 AM on September 2, 2011

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