I’ve always been fascinated by typewriters. I find them to be curious machines, and their history is no less interesting. (Go on, take a look!) Of course I’m also fascinated by digital technology, and how it empowers people to creating things. Above is a rendering of a QWERTY keyboard, and below is an actual QWERTY keyboard I created using digital fabrication and a tiny computer called a microcontroller functioning as the “brain”.
The keyboard is fully-functional. Plug it into the USB port of your laptop or desktop computer and you can start typing. Of course you can only type the letters Q, W, E, R, T and Y… but it does work. Like all of the things we use, it has limitations. Like all of our technology, it doesn’t do quite all of what we’d like it to do.
The QWERTY Keyboard is made from wood. (Just like the early prototype of the Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter seen below.) My father was good at working with wood, and his father before him was probably even better at it. I am not that good at working with wood, but I am good at creating things digitally. There is perhaps an inverse skill scale at work here. Are we losing the ability to craft real-world objects in exchange for creating digital objects? Maybe digital fabrication is the answer, bridging the gap between the two.
The Sholes, Glidden & Soule typewriter is a weird looking device, as is my QWERTY keyboard. I think there’s a place in the world for both of them, and perhaps a place where the two can meet.
For more information on this piece, visit the QWERTY Keyboard project page. There are more thoughts and more photos, and as always, I welcome your comments.