Friday, August 29, 2014

August 2014 Observations - What’s up with Pop Culture and Typewriters? Weird Al, Tom Hanks, World’s Fairs, and Printing



A typewriter (one of many it seems) made an appearance at the Emmys
I am not sure if it is an end-of-summer nostalgia thing, or just pure coincidence, but lately it seems I am surrounded by typewriter references. This week, it was the Emmy Awards, and the “Weird Al” send-up which parodied famous TV show’s theme songs, and somehow ended with the presentation of a giant typewriter to audience member and "Game of Thrones" writer George R.R. Martin, who famously prefers to write on an old school DOS word processor to anything more modern. (See  “Why Game of Thrones Writer Uses an Old-school DOS Machine”)

 
Looking at my Twitter homepage a few days prior, I noticed among the trending topics “Tom Hanks”. With all the summer’s negative and even horrific news on so many fronts, I was a bit hesitant to click through to see what this trending status was all about, but was soon relieved to find it was very happy buzz about, of all things, a new Hanks-branded typewriter-simulation app for the iPad. Entitled Hanx Writer, the tweets led me to a TechCrunch description of the app – and its popularity. I also found a Newsweek article that directed me to a New York Times op-ed piece by Hanks, from last summer (2013), which heaped praise and nostalgia on the typewriter – turns out he’s quite the aficionado.

Hanx Writer had Tom Hanks trending on Twitter recently

Of course, I had to download the app and play with it for myself, and found that it's quite the fun app, and really does give the feel of typing – similar but different, too, than today’s keyboarding. Plus, and of course of keen interest to me, Hanx Writer allows printing, so that perfect Courier font on the iPad screen can be rendered to a printed page via built-in AirPrint capability.


A nostalgic piece on NPR’s Planet Money about the 50th anniversary of the New York world's fair and the technology on display included picture phones but stressed how typewriters seemed to generate more interest (see “Typewriters, Underwater Hotels And Picturephones: The Future, As Seen From 1964”). And though such old memories are subject to “drift”, I also remember the picture phone (but not typewriters) from my childhood visit to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair - although they were not nearly as exciting as the “pickle pins” offered by Heinz (a promotional staple of such events for over 100 years), and a grade school status item, at least in 1962!

The nostalgia about the typewriter aside, it really is interesting to think, from a business evolution perspective, about the development of the desktop printer in the period following. I remember in my first office jobs, some of the secretaries – in more progressive areas of the business - having enhanced typewriters that held canned text for letters and invoices in oddly shaped memory cards, to go along manual entry of names and other unique fields. This help streamline the process of more efficiently producing typed documents. These memory-enable machines evolved into standalone word processors, but still requiring a typewriter or the loud and expensive “daisy wheel” printer.

At the same time, the PC was developing (though not yet called a “PC”), and that DOS platform Martin still prefers became home to very basic text editing, eventually also dubbed as word processors. But they needed a better output device than the aforementioned daisy wheels or “greenbar” printers found in the data center. And by 1984, the HP LaserJet emerged as that disruptive printer, featuring “Quick, Quiet and Quality” capabilities, finally beating the output capability of typewriters at every turn.

I guess I am getting a little nostalgic myself, but to take a more calculated, academic eye to the situation, it’s what we categorize as classic development of “complementary products” (as my economics students will attest) along with some “creative destruction” thrown in. The computer-based word processor and the "letter quality” printer developed on similar tracks and created together an outstanding combination that displaced typewriters, even those souped-up models, and business communications was transformed forever.

End-of-summer fun can be yours with the iPad Hanx Writer app

And back to the Hanks app. Whether you want to classify it as pure nostalgia, and/or a gimmicky app to show the kids and stimulate “can you believe we really did this” thoughts and discussion? Regardless, for a little end-of-summer fun and nostalgia of yoru own, I heartily recommend taking the Hanx Writer app for a spin!

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