Revenge of the Typewriter

Bill Weir, Andrew Lampard, David Miller, David Kovenetsky
This Could Be Big
Revenge of the Typewriter

When was the last time you received or wrote a typewritten letter? Better yet, when was the last time you so much as saw a typewriter?

The elegant, antiquated word processor became obsolete long ago but they haven’t ceased to exist. In fact, they may even be due for a comeback -- that is, if Jack Zylkin, an electrical engineer from Philadelphia, has his way.

Zylkin, a typewriter enthusiast of sorts, has devised a simple electrical method for turning any typewriter into a computer keyboard. He calls it the USB Typewriter kit; after installing it, you can write a letter on a typewriter and have an instant backup copy on your computer.

In essence, you can write an email, or post to Twitter and Facebook -- any computer application you want -- with a typewriter.

“Realistically speaking, most people don’t have the space on their desk or time to use a typewriter in their daily lives,” said Zylkin in an interview conducted over Skype. “With the USB typewriter, I hope to take the magic of old typewriters and update it for the modern generation.”

Zylkin said he came up with the idea of modernizing typewriters after joining Hive76, a collective that repurposes old technology.

“At the space we had several old typewriters, and they were just basically collecting dust, no one knew what to do with them,” said Zylkin. He also noticed that no one was making use of some electronic equipment that was lying around. That’s when he struck upon combining the materials to “make something old new again.”

It works like this: after purchasing the kit that matches your typewriter, you attach an electronic circuit board underneath the typewriter’s keys and a USB control panel to its base. When you punch the typewriter, the keys tap the circuit board, which then sends a signal to the USB control panel. Once plugged into a computer, the computer will interpret the signal as it would any keyboard’s.

“I do get people who ask me, ‘what’s the point of this,’” said Zylkin, acknowledging a standard refrain. “And if you have to ask that question, you probably won’t see the point of this.”

But for those who love typewriters and enjoy the process of writing, Zylkin thinks his invention will allow you to slow down and savor your writing ritual.

Since starting his own business selling USB Typewriter kits more than two years ago, Zylkin says he has sold over 1,000 kits. They range in price from $55 to $99 on his company’s website. You can also purchase USB-enabled typewriters Zylkin himself has made from scratch, starting at $599.