It's not unusual to see 80-year-old Paul Schweitzer walking into Manhattan businesses carrying a doctor's bag. But he's not a physician, and his bag doesn't contain a stethoscope but tools like pliers and typewriter ribbons, and he's usually on a mission of mercy to repair someone's old Underwood or Smith-Corona manual typewriter.
Yes, typewriter. In an era of speech-to-text and FaceTime, typewriters are hot items again. Schweitzer, a second-generation typewriter repairman whose father opened his store, Gramercy Typewriter Company, during the Depression, keeps busy repairing cherished machines and selling about 60 a month (a sixfold increase from a few years ago), many to Millennials.
Now, before you roll your eyes and dismiss this trend as part of the 20-something fascination with everything ironic, old, and bespoke, from tweed suits to unicycles, don't. Businesspeople, kids, and even celebrities like Tom Hanks have become devotees of the ancient clack-clack-clack that was once heard in every urban newsroom.
But while the resurgence of the typewriter is sweet and nostalgic, I think it's something more, too. It's emblematic of something that people are searching for--something you, as a leader, can give them.
Much of the communication people receive today is anything but thoughtful. Emails dashed off in seconds, text messages sent on the run, opinionated tweets, Facebook screeds--it all feels impersonal and thoughtless. As a result, we feel like afterthoughts, bit players in someone else's drama. That's not the stuff of great teamwork or collaboration.
Typewriters and typed messages touch us because creating them takes deliberation and care, and we miss those things. If you're struggling to connect with your people or your customers, perhaps your communication feels rote, reflexive, or canned. But reaching out in a way that's organic and authentic doesn't have to mean buying a vintage Olivetti and tapping out notes instead of using Slack.
Here are some ways to get that same feel without the ink stains and the smell of Wite-Out:
Curate your words.
Communicate less. Stop treating every thought you have as worth sharing and every message as urgent. Cut the volume of your communication in half, at least; only send what's meaningful and relevant to the person. Scarcity increases perceived value. In other words, curate your content via Twitter, Instagram, email, and other business tools you're using. Make every word matter.
Write a note.
Handwritten notes and cards have an impact because they're inconvenient; they take time and effort to buy, write, and send. That's why people love them; they're a message in themselves. Mix handwritten messaging into your digital world. When you get a new client or customer, don't just send them a "Thank You" email, write a note and tell them why they matter. We practice this at Motto. Each time we get a new client we send them some of our favorite books and a handwritten note.
Substitute FaceTime for real face time.
In-person interaction is magic; do more of it and less remote working, when you can. Showing up and sitting down tells your people that they matter. Instead of using Zoom for every call, invite your clients to talk business over lunch, or go to their office (if you're in the same town). Try to find a way to incorporate more face-to-face time, as much as you can, as often as you can.