Is Astrohaus's Freewrite The Future of Writing?
In the Atlantic, Ian Bogost reviews the "Smart Typewriter" that's been gaining steam in some writerly circles lately. The Freewrite began on Kickstarter in December of 2014 and had raised its goal and more by the end of January 2015. Touted as a "Distraction Free Smart Typewriter," the Freewrite–first named the Hemingwrite after Ernest–was to be a return to a better time when the writing experience meant something more than blinking cursors, blank pages, and the constant edit-as-I-write mindset. For all it's good intentions, the Freewrite becomes mostly an expensive grasp for nostalgia.
Perhaps it’s only possible to understand the state of contemporary writing—fiction or nonfiction, thinkpiece or memoir—after having looked awry at the written word through the distorted lens of the Freewrite. Contra Hemingway, and despite the stereotype of online clickbait and quick-hits, ordinary writing has become complex, latticed, always looking out rather than in. For all the clever bluster I worked up above about the effects of offline authorship, they’re just there for effect, precious one-offs that only work in a story about a writing device that precludes incorporating on-the-fly research. But when used normally, Freewrite drafts just become Word documents, ready to be encrusted with the links and details and embeds of the contemporary Internet Baroque. Hemingway’s one true sentence is long gone. In its place, the default aesthetic of stories, novels, and Internet thinkpieces alike has become that of the perfectly-overwritten adolescent television character, where wittiness and acrimony appear to flow together fluently like soft-serve twist, rather than having been ventriloquized by a room of puppeteers behind the scenes. Merely going offline to write on a small-batch smart typewriter will hardly change the aesthetics of reading and writing. Nobody writes without cribbing.
The romantic minimalist geek inside me wants to buy the $500 Freewrite and recapture the writing glory of authors who used typewriters to write their masterpieces. Yet, what difference does the Freewrite offer other than to force one to not self-edit as they write? There may also be a tactile difference; a feel of the typewriter that instills passion and artistry in the writer that I don't know about having never used a typewriter yet. However, as Bogost notes, we can always turn off the Wi-Fi on our computers to achieve the same affect without the lag in an e-ink screen.
I will often write in the fullscreen mode of minimalistic writing apps–like iA Writer–and that offers me enough freedom to write unabashedly allowing mistakes and typos but still offering the option to research or take notes for future research in other apps when I need.
Writing with a pen on paper, when I feel stuck or uninspired, is often my turn to nostalgic tradition at a much cheaper price than a Freewrite. Doing so offers a similar feeling of writing on a distraction free surface that forces me to focus on each line and to think through what my next sentence is going to be all at a price of pennies instead of hundreds of dollars. I then edit as I transfer my handwritten works to a Word doc or wherever else it's going to live digitally, because everything I write becomes digital at some point. Bogost discusses the evolution of writing with pen to typewriter:
Online distractions offer an obvious case, but it’s easy to forget how much the tools with which we write change what it means to write in the first place. Writing longhand on paper was different from typing ideas and sentences on a mechanical apparatus that pressed forged letters between ink and paper. It’s a transition that Friedrich Nietzsche made—the first major philosopher to use a typewriter, a bizarre-looking but reasonably portable Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, which looks a bit like a skull with keys on needles stuck into it at all angles. For Nietzsche, the typewriter offered a way to write despite his deteriorating vision (and sanity). He knew that tools changed their users; “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts,” Nietzsche aphorized. These are facts I happen to know just because they were memorable, not because I remember facts like these regularly anymore. I’ve long since outsourced such easily-rediscovered knowledge to the Internet.