The Future of Imaging.... Part 2

From Typewriters to the Data Era .. The Typewriter Era

Ed Crowley, Virtulytix, Chief Thought Leader (CTO) 

Have you ever really thought about how disruptive typewriters were. Can you imagine a time when clerks literarily hand wrote letters and kept handwritten entries in accounting journals? And this isn’t the dark ages we are talking about. Right up until the 1860’s, this was the norm.

The scribe era was dominated by a relatively small educated class that could read and write. Illiteracy rates were as high as 90% in the 1500’s falling to 60-70% in the early 1700’s. It wasn’t until the late 1700’s that literacy rates began increasingly significantly as education rates improved, and the industrial era began. During that time society began the first major shift away from a trades-based and agrarian society to the industrial society we know today. These socio-economic changes set the stage for the dramatic technology driven shift that we call the typewriter era.

Christopher Lathem Sholes introduced the first commercially successful typewriter in1867 Suddenly, the legibility of the letter wasn’t dependent upon penmanship. Every letter was consistent in terms of quality, despite the individual skill set of the operator. What a huge change.

At almost the same time, the peak of industrialization and the rise of education levels drove an increasing need for, and availability of, clerical workers along with standardized communication. The typewriter era brought a way for these clerical workers to create business correspondence in a standardized way faster and more accurately than ever before. The beginnings of the modern office were born.

Sholes Typewriter

Sholes Typewriter

In the early 1960’s IBM further revolutionized the office environment by introducing the electric typewriter which included such innovations as the qwerty style keyboard and proportional spacing.  By 1983, typewriters had enjoyed a long and successful run of over 120 years and IBM was the leader in the market with the number one market share position in the USA. Dataquest (a leading market forecast provider of the time) was predicting the typewriter market would more than double by 1987. This forecast was made despite the emerging PC market and the emergence of low-cost dot-matrix printers and ultimately was proven wrong. By 1987 the typewriter market was in a free-fall due to the increasing use of computer like Word Processors from companies like Wang and Lanier along with growing use of desktop personal computers (PCs) from IBM and Compaq. By 1991 IBM would divest itself of its typewriter division in a spin-off that would ultimately become Lexmark (which was acquired 26 years later by the Chinese firm, Apex/Ninestar).

The typewriter era had an incredible run. It created and then changed the modern office. However, it was ultimately displaced by new, emerging technologies. And no one saw it coming. This was the end of what we call the first modern office era - the Typewriter era. It lasted 124 years compared to over 300 years for the scribe era.

In this transition we see a foreshadowing of the increasing rate of change and disruption that will happen over the next thirty five years enabled by technology advances and changing socio economic trends. In the next blog I will walk us through the ‘Impact Era’ which overlapped with the typewriter era, but had a relatively short peak as the market rapidly shifted to page printers.

At the conclusion of this series of five blogs (each blog will cover a distinct era), I will be holding a complimentary webinar on how to thrive in the new Data Era, as well as provide access to a free white paper covering is critical topic. I encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions on the industry’s journey at on this blog, on the Virtulytix LinkedIn site or the LinkedIn discussion group at Imaging Industry Transformation.