Oz Blog News Commentary

The complications of simplicity.

June 24, 2024 - 13:18 -- Admin

The very first writing machine I ever bought myself was a Sharp Intelliwriter 2000. It had 4K of memory, which I spent nearly $1000 bulking out to 16 K. It also had a tiny, tiny screen. I think maybe 64 characters at most. Enough for maybe half a sentence - if you kept your sentences shorter than this one.

It was incredibly limited but still a step up from the electric typewriter I’d been using. The very first piece I was ever paid for, I wrote on that thing. The next couple as well, before I ploughed the money earned into a PC and a dot matrix printer.

That was a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. It was a wonder to me to flick through Wired magazine and find something not too far removed from it being reviewed recently.

This bad boy.

The Freewrite Alpha.

The keyboard looks nicer, and the screen is slightly bigger. But still not much, eh? The Wired review kicks off:

FOUR BLANK LINES and a cursor. After getting through the setup pleasantries, that's all you're left with when you start a new draft on the Freewrite Alpha.

No spell check, no AI-powered notes on your grammar, and most certainly no other browser tabs to distract you from the ultimate goal of getting words down on the page.

The idea is romantic, I guess. It's just you and your words. And it definitely speaks to whatever dark animus is gathering in our culture against tech that gets bigger and more powerful with every iteration. The dumb phone movement and single-purpose digital notepads come to mind as other examples of the same thing—an urgent need to focus.

I don’t think I could do it, though. I’m so used to working in a vast multiscreen arena of words, story arcs, characters, research, and… stuff… that being confronted by just four lines of text again would bring me undone.

Perhaps literary writers who tend to dial right in on the single line they’re crafting might get some use for it… but I dunno.

It’s pretty obviously a pure creation machine rather than being optimised for review and rewriting. When you’ve got a draft you're happy with, you send it somewhere else to clean up.

While the Google Drive syncing was handy for me, the Freewrite also has a button I couldn't stop myself using: Send. This immediately sends your draft as a text file and PDF to the email linked to your Freewrite account, and nothing has ever felt more like ripping a sheet of paper out of a typewriter to me than hitting it at the end of a piece, that "Send" whipping it away from me.

In reality, pressing Send only beckoned the next step, an editing pass, but with this sort of product there is a lot to be said for the emotional weight of a design decision, and I fell in love with that Send button.

Still, that move through to the edit was also a step that the Alpha made more of a requirement than I'm used to. Every writer likes to imagine their copy comes out clean, and the rise of autocorrect has made that a lower bar than ever to clear.

Well, the Alpha has no crutches of that sort, so almost every draft I checked was riddled with little typos and words without spaces between them. On an actual computer, using an actual web browser, clicking through these to fix them was generally a momentary job, but it still leaves me wondering how an 80,000-word document might look when reviewed for the first time.

It would look like four lines of text, buddy.