An interesting product came up on my radar yesterday. And I’m not one to diss genuine creativity and inventiveness gratuitously, but I do wonder. The Hemingwrite, you see, is designed as “A Distraction Free Writing Tool,” offering the functionality of an old-style word processor, the ergonomics of a typewriter, and the freedom from distractions of a hermit’s cave. And designed for decades of use.
The Hemingwrite’s features include a mechanical keyboard, an e-ink display with backlight, and Evernote cloud backup – for despite its retro styling, the Hemingwrite is a connected beast. What it is not, however, is connected to the internet in such a way that allows the distractions of the internet, social media, or even email to impinge on your creative fugue.
“What the Kindle did for reading, we want to do for writing,” says cofounder Patrick Paul in the Hemingwrite’s launch release. “Adam and I are huge fans of the simplicity of a typewriter but using one is tiresome and outdated. We set out to deliver the same distraction-free writing experience of a typewriter with all of the added benefits of modern technology: backups to the cloud, e-paper display, Cherry MX keyboard switches – and nothing else.”
I can imagine the appeal for some – without drawing the obvious, damning parallel with Jonathan Franzen. But I do have one reservation. For many, many working writers, writing requires research and reference to real-world materials rather than the products of your imagination – mostly now accessed online. Working writers also need to manage their writing career and their daily routine. They even need, god forbid, to copy/paste. All of that can be done on a desktop, laptop, or tablet while writing as well. Except for sustained bursts of a very particular kind of creativity, I don’t see the Hemingwrite actually helping most working writers much – although there is probably still enough of a niche audience to throw up buyers.
I’m also simply not persuaded that distraction via the internet is that much of a problem for modern writers. Virtual persons from Porlock may be constantly intrusive, but it didn’t take the internet to invent distractions. And many, many writers, including Franzen’s idol Karl Kraus, have written in cafes, libraries or other public places partly in order to distract themselves from the intense solitude of the writer’s life. That’s a problem that it didn’t take the internet to invent, and that social media has if anything alleviated.
The Hemingwrite’s inventors do ask one question that’s worth pondering, though. “What’s the oldest electronic device you own and actually still use?” they query. “The question arises: Is it even possible to create an electronic device in 2014 that doesn’t become obsolete?” Now, notwithstanding my reservations about the Hemingwrite, I can imagine those who want it still using it in five or ten years’ time. I’m not even convinced that something like my Android tablet will last that long.