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Nietzsche was the first philoso­pher to use a type­writer. As the read­ing above ar­gues, this changed his lan­guage and in­deed his phi­los­o­phy.


His type­writer was a weird, early, round model.

Nietzsche lost his mind in Turin in the 1890s. Of course the list of thinkers in­flu­enced by Nietzsche is end­less. One of his ideas is that you can’t judge an act by its in­ten­tions. (I guess this is ut­l­i­tar­i­an­ism). The act can only be judged

A man’s moral­ity is more in­flu­enced by his diet etc than the church he vis­its …

Perhaps this is where our ethics lie, not in some grand thought but in facts of every­day life.

Turin was the home of Italian type­set­ting, man­u­fac­tur­ing. Olivetti, Fiat, the first film stu­dios.

It at­tracted sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers such as Charles Babbage, who used his en­gi­neer­ing knowl­edge to build the first an­a­lyt­i­cal en­gine, ie. the first com­puter.

Luigi Federico Menebrea was ap­pointed to write up Babbage’s lec­ture (published 1842).

Analytical Machine Babbage’s Analytical Engine, 1834-1871. Science Museum

Menebrea was­n’t im­pressed:

[…] the ma­chine is not a think­ing be­ing, but sim­ply an au­toma­ton which acts ac­cord­ing to the laws im­posed upon it

The idea of the in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion of the

Franz Reuleaux’s: The Kinematics of Machinery: Outline of a Theory of Machines (1876)

Reauleaux was the head of the German patent of­fice. Kinematics is coined here as the sci­ence of de­sign­ing mech­a­nisms to di­vert, di­rect, use en­ergy in var­i­ous ways. Levers, wheels, gears, belts are needed to trans­late move­ment.

He framed ma­chine as­sem­blies as sen­tences - they have gram­mar, link to­gether etc. THis is a fun­da­men­tal no­tion.

Reauleaux’s de­f­i­n­i­tion of ma­chine

A ma­chine is a com­bi­na­tion of rigid or re­sis­tant bod­ies, formed and con­nected so that they move with def­i­nite rel­a­tive mo­tions and trans­mit force from the source of power to the re­sis­tance to be over­come.

Note how this is full of syn­onyms for the word force” - this says that na­ture isa wild thing which we need to con­strain us­ing force. It’s only a small step to ap­ply the same to thought. The idea that you could fit peo­ple into a sen­tence is a key idea of the in­dus­trial 19th cen­tury.

Nietzsche: Untimely Meitations

Are there still hu­man be­ings, or per­haps only think­ing, talk­ing and writ­ing ma­chines

This is his view of the in­dus­tri­alised German so­ci­ety in the late 19th cen­tury. He was sick in all kinds of ways so he could­n’t write.

Our writ­ing tools are also work­ing on our thoughts

Malling Hansen writ­ing ball. This was orig­i­nally de­signed for peo­ple who could­n’t see. THat’s why the dif­fer­ent parts are arranged in such an odd way. You can’t see what you’re typ­ing (but that would­n’t mat­ter). This is a sort of pros­thetic de­vice. Note that this has a bell be­cause it’s de­signed for peo­ple who can’t see. Later, this be­comes an im­por­tant part of the ma­chine and also the way it is used (for fast copy­ing)

As he was work­ing on this, he re­alises that the ma­chines we use (typewriter, pen and pa­per) changes the thought (much like diet changes moral­ity).

The wan­derer and his shadow

The print­ing press, the ma­chine, the rail­way, the tele­graph are premises whose thou­sand-year con­clu­sions no one has yet had the courage to draw

Machine as cal­i­bra­tion of power

Another tech­nol­ogy are guns. Remington started in NY. When the civil war comes around, there’s sud­denly a huge the de­mand, and they turn the re­volver into a plat­form, a stan­dard prod­uct which comes in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions. The bul­let is stan­dard­ised, every­thing fits to­gether.

Revolver Source

When the war was over (and de­mand fell), Remington moved into type­writ­ers. Both the gun and the type­writer are ex­ten­sions of the hand, they and the op­er­a­tor form a new bio­me­chan­i­cal unit. Typing and shoot­ing man­u­als tell you how to hold your body etc.

At the time there were loads of dif­fer­ent key­board etc, un­til rem­ing­ton in­tro­duced the QWERTY key­board (accurate?). Later, they start mak­ing com­put­ers. IN the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, the qw­erty key­board be­comes this stan­dard­ised de­vice that every­one learns how to use.

Weights , mea­sures and prices of artis­tic ge­nius - fu­tur­ist man­i­festo 1914

Corradini and Settimelli

There is no es­sen­tial dif­fer­ence a hu­man brain and a ma­chine…

Note how what­ever tech­nol­ogy is new at the time be­comes the metaphor for the brain.

John Thompson (who in­vented qw­erty) later in­vented the Tommy Gun (aka the Chicago type­writer) A re­la­tion­ship be­tween ty­po­graphic lit­er­acy and power con­t­nues

(Thompson did not in­vent the qw­erty key­board)

Mussolini Yes! Year xii of the fas­cist era (mussolini pro­pa­ganda poster) Xanti Schawinsky (1934) Source

The same year, Schawinsky also de­signs Olivetti ads (which look v sim­i­lar to the fas­cist poster). He later went on to teach at Black Mountain College.

Olivetti be­fore WW2: The type­writer is huge, iron, de­signed to sit on a desk

After WW2, the type­writ­ers be­come portable, us­ing seet metal and coloured plas­tic.

Programma Olivetti Programma 101 (1965) is the first desk­top com­puter. Source

This is es­sen­tially an adding ma­chine, the idea of bring­ing the key­board to the com­puter has­n’t hap­pened yet.

IBM Selectric (1961) was a huge suc­cess.

This be­came the ba­sic unit for the main­frame com­puter, which con­nected mul­ti­ple of these to­gether. Whole IBM in­fra­struc­ture. IBM MT/ST

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This starts to con­nect the typ­ing to a data­base etc.

The Selectric worked with a golf­ball that had the type­face on it, mean­ing you could use all kinds of dif­fer­ent type­faces (there were 100s). John Cage and other US avant garde artists, writ­ers, mu­si­cians use this. Bukowski.

The se­lec­tric oculd also be hacked to cut sten­cils, mean­ing you could use it for po­lit­i­cal mes­sages

Brigate Rosse

Early 70s we start see­ing the dot ma­trix printer. This can print out huge amounts of data in use­ful forms. The dot ma­trix pa­per takes over from the type­writer car­riage. The pa­per is lined so you can read ta­bles of data.

Margaret Hamilton Came from a fam­ily of writ­ers. The stack is dot ma­trix printed.

Toward the end of the 20th cen­tury: DOt ma­trix to Daisy-Wheel to Laser printer.

We still use the qw­erty lay­out, but typ­ing is re­placed by tap­ping. Laptop key­boards take v lit­tle force, touch­screens take none. On key shift­ing: With the type­writer you had a shift be­twwen two sets of glyphs, now we have cmd, alt etc, which gives all kinds of new strate­gies

gun emo­jies

How do you or­ga­nize emo­jies? They don’t work like let­ters. They’re in this vague tax­on­omy. Note Microsoft starts with a ray­gun, then goes to a re­volver, then to a wa­ter pis­tol. We live ina world where you can buy an AR15 in a shop (or 3d print one) but not use a gun emo­jie.


(how does this sloven­ian philoso­pher) man­age to be so priduc­tive? He hates writ­ing, but he’s in­vented a tech­nique that tricks him into writ­ing:

  1. Writes down loose sen­tences and para­graphs
  2. Editing where he com­bines these sen­tences

This is il­lus­trates a shift from type­writ­ing to desk­top pub­lish­ing and how it changes the work­ing process. We’ve had WISYWYG ed­i­tors for ages, what’s the next thing? Is it predic­i­tive text?

People are do­ing in­ter­ested things with AI. How of­ten can yu re­ply with the stan­dard Gmail re­sponse be­fore some­one catches on?

The im­pe­dence of sen­sa­tion

If peo­ple write with a pen, that’s the lens we see the world through. NOvels writ­ten with a pen are de­tailed. The pen slows down per­cep­tion. With the type­writer you get the be­gin­ning of more stream of con­scious­ness writ­ing. Distribution meth­ods (telegraph, twit­ter) also chnage writ­ing and think­ing. Autocorrect and fillin-in are part of it. But there’s also peo­ple fill­ing in video clips, im­ages a more equal role (also in­ter­ac­tive pa­pers).

There’s a dis­tinc­tion be­twwen writ­ing and read­ing. If you write with a pen (in the west), the fn­da­men­tal unit is the stroke, whereas in read­ing the fun­da­men­tal unit is the let­ter. With type­writ­ing adn ty­pog­ra­phy, both are base on the let­ter and writ­ing and read­ing move close to each other.

When every­one gets ac­cess to type­set writ­ing (with type­writ­ers), print­ers start ex­plor­ing all these new type styles.

Word pro­cess­ing en­able sam­pling of text - sim­i­lar to mu­sic and mages

Let’s talk about type and ac­ces­si­bil­ity. Fastcompany ar­ti­cle on the type­writ­ers for the bild, guy who in­veneted email did so so he could talk to his deaf wife while he was at work

Quite of­ten in the his­tory of com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy is an el­e­ment of dis­abil­lity. See also Morse code, early cin­ema (ilp read­ing). Ford was proud of the fact that you could em­ploy blind peo­ple, peo­ple with miss­ing limbs etc. They could e be bolted into” and be­come a part of the as­sem­bly line.

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Heartfield John Heartfield, who used fas­cist-look­ing im­ages to at­tack fas­cism. One of the first to make po­lit­i­cal photo-col­lages. Source

PostScript (in ad­di­tion to type­writ­ing) is an im­por­tant step in his­tory (I guess be­tween the dot ma­trix printer and desk­top pub­lish­ing). Post-Script is the birth­place of dig­i­tal-first graphic de­sign away from big stu­dios. The first home-made dig­i­tal type­faces.


10 min­utes of var­i­ous peo­ple strug­gling to ex­plain what a me­chan­i­cal key­board is