Illustration by Erik Moe

Illustration by Erik Moe

At the center of the party sat a vintage typewriter on which guests were celebrating Sarah’s* virtues in love letters, poetry and prose. The unfamiliar layout of the typewriter forced each operator to slow down to hunt and peck the little round keys. It also took a few keystrokes to get a feel for how hard you had to hit to get a satisfying, clear, crisp mark through the blue ink ribbon and on to the page. This meant that each character delivered not only its usual alphabetic, numeric or punctual meaning, but also carried an intensity that conveyed to the reader how much confidence a writer had moment to moment. 

A longer word such as vehemently could start out confidently dark and then lighten up to reveal doubt halfway through: 

“Does vehemently mean what I think it means? Am I spelling vehemently right? Am I really characterizing Sarah’s degree of intensity as vehement right now? In permanent ink. At her birthday party, of all places. What’s wrong with me?”

By the end of the word, dark, firm strokes return. Restored confidence: 

“Of course vehemently needn’t be negative. Yes, vehemently does have all those alternating e’s. And Sarah would be the first to admit that she was speaking vehemently that day at the drum circle.”

This is a fictional example. No behavior written about on the typewriter at the center of the birthday party was actually characterized as having been conducted vehemently. But writing for an audience without a delete key meant that every keystroke was a commitment pushing further in to an idea of what Sarah meant to you. Every word became an object that would exist physically after the party was over and would have to be reconciled along with the empty bottles of prosecco.

*Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Erik Moe

Truxton Circle, Washington, DC, United States

Digital strategy expert working to strengthen the online work of social impact teams, culture-makers, and nonprofits.