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Sunday, 25 August 2013

Olivetti v. Mac

An Olivetti Lettera DL in its natural habitat
The typewriter gods smiled down on me this week, and my supply of Olivetti typewriter ribbon arrived a couple days early. Huzzah! Naturally, I have had Olivetti on the brain ever since, knocking out pages of rough drafts, and finding any reason to pull out my Lettera's. So since I have been so obsessed, I have decided to dedicate this blog to them, and to offer my two cents to the historical significance of the company that has been so well cemented in art and engineering and typewriter history, as well as to try and rebuff the notion that Olivetti is the equivalent of a pre-digital Mac. 
Olivetti 31 hard at work
The flaw in that argument stems from the ideals that guided Olivetti as a business and sent them from a little Italian outfit struggling to break into the market to the biggest manufacturer of typewriters in the world. When Olivetti was founded by M. Camillo Olivetti, he had a vision that the typewriter could be 1. simple 2. affordable 3.beautiful. Of those three ideas, only one can really be applied to the Mac successfully. It is also the most obvious to the untrained observer. An Olivetti typewriter and a Macbook share a common aesthetic. Their bodies are simply built, containing as few lines as possible while still remaining tasteful and pleasing to the eye. They are also sleek, maintaining a low profile and minimal distractions in their interfaces.
Lettera 31 profile
Macbook profile

When typing on an Olivetti, one of the first things you may notice is a lack of accessories: card holder, large grapher, and a metal paper support to help keep the page flush with the platen. Olympias are notorious for all these extras, and for good reason. Olympias cost a ton new. This is not dissimilar to Mac's refusal to have extra "Windows" style keys that often remove the need to rely on the mouse or touch pad--page end, page up, page down, home, etc. Also, you'll see that Olivetti's--like Mac's--were painted in limited colors seldom more than one per typewriter.
Honestly, when was the last time a Mac came in anything but silver or white?
But that is where the analogy ends. Olivetti for one was a universal typewriter that could be used by anyone. They took the same paper and same carbons and had the same amount of keys. There was essentially no learning curve to go with buying one--no more than there is when going to an SCM or Royal or Underwood. But Mac is infamous for their learning curve and (until recently) the exclusivity of their programs and unwillingness to merge properly with Windows OS.
The first Lettera: the 22
Mac's are expensive to boot. An Olivetti typewriter--in 1960--only cost around $120 or $150, and they lowered with their economy models: the 31/Dora, 30/College, and 25. A Macbook, iMac, or Air, even with the market so well saturated in Mac tech, are still massive investments, requiring $1,200 to $2,000 from the consumers while not giving the same quality or longevity from Olivetti.
The evolution of the Lettera
There is also another aspect of the Olivetti that we have not--and will not--touch today: Their Spirit. Until next time...
     That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table with his Lettera 32