Simon Browne

see also machine writing

It wasn’t handwriting that drove forward the technology of writing into the modern era, but type. Moveable type expanded the publishing capabilities of text from a one-to-one to one-to-many model. In the late 19th century hot-typesetting machines melted pieces of aluminium and cast them into type, in order to be re-used and repeated. Input for these machines was often entered on a keyboard, which produced a perforated paper tape, a common early data storage medium. A distinguishing feature of these early typesetting machines was the ability to iterate processes by storing information in a reusable format.

For the keyboard, iteration operates at another level, the keys. The keyboard has its roots in moveable type, which produced “typing”, or using a discrete set of components that could be rearranged in infinite combinations. From iteration comes automation; “typewriters”, which emerged onto the market around the same time as the phonograph, were often advertised as a product that enabled “automatic writing”.

Image: The first commercially-produced typewriter, the Hansen Writing Ball, from Kittler, F.A. (1990) Discourse networks 1800/1900. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press