ASU alum uses typewriters in high school classroom

A blur of fingers thrum the keyboard assertively, avoiding mistakes, a symphony of taps and clacks until — ding! — the line is finished and a hand pushes the carriage return to start a new line.

This is the noisy chorus of once-forgotten manual typewriters, now recovered and refurbished by an ASU alumnus and his classroom full of 10th and 11th graders at Alhambra High School in central Phoenix.

Ryan Adney, who graduated in 2004 with a degree in secondary education and now teaches English, started to incorporate typewriters in his class last year when his students showed interest in the 1952 Royal HH typewriter on his desk.

Adney said he found his first typewriter in the school library last year, checked it out of the library, experimented with it and fell in love with writing on a typewriter.

He said he enjoys typewriters because they are a great “focus tool,” and unlike a computer, they do not offer distractions like email and Facebook.

“A typewriter never begs for your attention. You can give it your attention, but it never asks for it outright. It never distracts you from what you’re doing when working,” Adney said.

When he first started to experiment with typewriters in the classroom, he wanted to find “a direct correlation between typewriter and improvement of skills,” and he said he noticed an improvement in students’ spelling.

Adney said the students in his classes share the 14 typewriters equally and have never damaged them.

He published the results of his experiment on his blog, “Magic Margin: The Classroom Typewriter Project.” The results show that last semester 100 percent of his 53 students surveyed said they enjoyed using the typewriter, and 68 percent said they felt their spelling had improved.

“When you’re typing on a typewriter, your mistakes are very obvious. And they’re very much impossible to correct. So the next time you write that word, you need to make sure you spell it correctly,” Adney said.

He is also a member of the Typosphere, a budding online community of type-casters, who are people that blog by typing a journal on their typewriter, scanning it to their computer and then posting it.

The Typosphere’s website officially lists 53 type-casting blogs (three in Arizona), but the numbers are growing as young people who grew up in a digital age continue to re-connect with old technologies.

Bill Wahl, long-time owner of the Mesa Typewriter Exchange in downtown Mesa, said his business started to pick up in the last two years when young people, often writers in their 20s, started to write with manual typewriters.

“Having a typewriter helps me concentrate because the feel of having a typewriter is unique,” English and Spanish literature sophomore Chris Sanchez said. “The typewriter is there just to type, and when I type on a computer it feels like there’s too much distraction going on.”

Sanchez, who writes primarily poetry, said he was inspired by writers of the ‘50s and ‘60s and wanted to connect with their writing process on the typewriter. He said he felt typewriters were the ideal way to write.

Wahl said his older customers will often come in with electric typewriters for repairs, while his younger customers will enter the store and want to him to fix up an old manual typewriter “that’s ready to be thrown out,” because it is in such bad shape. He said he enjoys fixing the older manuals for young people.

“It’s a challenge for me, but I’m excited because they’re excited,” Wahl said.

Wahl has worked with manual and electric typewriters for 37 years, and the business has been around since his grandfather started it in 1949. He said it has outlasted other typewriter shops because he has few expenses since the building was paid off years ago.

The young people who contact Wahl for repairs are split into sub-groups. Some completely reject all technology for a simple lifestyle, while others use typewriters alongside modern devices, Wahl said.

The customers also vary from serious writers who plan to use typewriters every day to those who buy them out of sheer interest and plan to use them occasionally.

“It’s not nostalgic, it’s new for them. It’s something brand new,” Wahl said.

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