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The iPad, the Kindle, or a Manual Typewriter?

Recently, I have been working with some senior undergrads at Minnesota on educational projects. These students obtain degrees in things like mathematics, chemistry, or political science and enter an M.S. program that fulfills the requirements for teaching in Minnesota.

Two years ago, when one of the students purchased a Netbook, I was very impressed. A Netbook is a less expensive version of a notebook that  has the horsepower for most of the things a college student needs to do with a computer, but Netbooks are already obsolete. I cynically believe  this is because there is not enough money to be made from them. And for some reason people seem willing to accept  technology degradation if an item is small and cute.

There have been some encouraging recent developments, such as Smashwords and the new Amazon policy on pamphlets. Hopefully textbooks will soon start to become widely available through these mechanisms for distribution as e-books. Which leads to  the problem at hand, the Kindle or the iPad? These seem to be the current best candidates for the educational e-book reader.

The iPad is Apple’s latest toy.  Everyone raves about it, from docs to profs, but I’m not buying.  The iPad is expensive due to extraneous functionality  for the purpose of reading an e-book. Then the new Kindle arrived. As one commenter said of the viral Eva von Dassow video: “Be still my beating heart…”

Currently it is relatively cheap.  I’ll bet it goes to $99. Free Internet connectivity for download of  stuff from Amazon, as well as millions of public domain books, an ability to read pdf’s, and a way to get your own stuff, e.g., from Word, into Kindle-readable format. Wonderful specs for reading in full daylight and changing font size.

I almost bit, but discovered one fatal flaw. The device is based on a technology that will not do color—a deal breaker, because color is essential for educational material. Whether it is organic chemistry or  art-history text (field of The Boss), color is necessary. The iPad does color, but I’ve already explained why that is not an option.

But The Boss had already agreed to a Kindle/iPad. What to do? I have been very curious about the effect of using something other than a computer for writing. Many good writers work directly on a computer. But some of us learned doing it the old fashioned way. I have always had a hard time sitting in front of a computer screen and writing. What about a typewriter?

Don DeLillo still uses a typewriter as does Philip Roth. A whole subculture of typewriter aficionados has embraced the inked spool. One of the enablers of this retro movement is Cambridge Typewriters  in Arlington, Mass.  The Boss and I went over to check out the place.

Ah, Nirvana. I wanted an Olympia portable. They are very well made and heavy enough not to jump around. My preference was  classic green. Many very attractive machines were in stock: green, brown, maroon and an interesting two-tone. The Boss instantly seized on that one. I have never run across anything like it in my Internet searches. Maroon top and gray bottom with chrome return and trim. There is one small chip on the front, patina as The Boss would say. Deal done. This machine is now my first choice for original drafts.

We need e-book readers that can handle color and that are reasonably priced. Make it so, Amazon, Apple, or anyone else. I’ll be working away on material for your reader, doing first drafts on a typewriter.

Picture Credit: JA Neiswander

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