Jack Zylkin has created something really cool: a hack to turn any kind of vintage typewriter in a normal keyboard for tablets and computers. One that actually types on paper and works like any keyboard. Watching them in action is nothing sort of fascinating.
He appropriately calls them USB typewriters—thankfully, he decided to ignore the dreadful iNaming scheme. And while they may seem like a novelty, the idea of typing a document and have a physical and digital copy at the same time is extremely neat and attractive. So much that he has sold hundreds of them in his Etsy store.
The experience of writing in a typewriter can be extremely productive. And quite soothing. As Jack explained when I asked if he actually used his inventions all the time, he views the act of using his inventions as a sweet indulgence. Or medicine for the brain, "a luxury in my life to be able to slow down [the] brain and use a typewriter."
Like most people, Jack isn't a professional writer. He is an engineer. He designs and makes things and software. "The typewriter is not the most appropriate thing for me to do my work on" he told me, "however, when I am at home, writing to friends or brainstorming ideas, or even making grocery lists, I have a dock set up for my iPad."
He doesn't even look at the iPad, like in the video that Etsy has published about him. "I usually don't put the iPad on top of the typewriter like in my video, although that is very cool to do—I sort of just put the iPad out of the way so I don't have to look at it, then type away and grab what I typed later to email or tweet or save. The typewriter helps me focus and not get distracted by my inbox."
That's the key: not being distracted by the inbox. I do the same with aiWriter and a bluetooth keyboard, turning the iPad into a digital page. But the notifications still come in. Jack's method goes five steps back. The iPad turns into a digital recipient for your paper thoughts. Not the other way around. A reverse printer.
It may seem a bit crazy, but single tasking and a slower pace may be the best thing for both your productivity and creativity.
Jack says that he has sold 200 USB Typewriters and around 600 kits. That's a lot people for a small Etsy store that nobody knows (until now) and for such an extravagant device.
He normally keeps in contact with his customers, specially those who buy the kits, to see if they have any trouble and help them. Ocassionally the students surpass the master: "I'm sometimes really surprised by the amazing things folks make with my USB Typewriter circuitry—one intrepid hacker used my circuitry in his typewriter-driven version of Zork and I also have la few customers that use my circuitry to create steampunk masterpieces like this one."
As you would expect, his clients love their hacked typewriters. "They love the typewriters I upgrade for them," he says, "they are all lovers of typewriters already, and I just go ahead and make them that much more useful and special, so what is not to like?"
He even allows client to send his own typewriters, some of them quite special: "some customers are collectors with access to rarer typewriters than I would be able to find myself, and others have typewriters with sentimental value." He does those at half the cost of the typewriters he purchases on his own to retrofit. Things are going to well that he is even starting "a line of funky colored typewriters," which he gets powder-coated at a bicycle paint shop according to the color preference of his costumers.
I don't know about you, but I'm glad people like Jack are around coming with ideas like this. So much that I may be getting a sweet IBM Selectra for myself.