Chris Hannah

Using an Old Computer for New Writing

Ruben Schade has an interesting idea, that’s started flipping a lot of switches in my head, using an old computer as a dedicated device for writing.

I’ve seen more people on Mastodon take up old computers for this purpose, which as a self-respecting retrocomputing nerd has inspired me tremendously. These are some of the reasons I’ve seen:

  • Single-tasking operating systems force the text editor to be front and centre, and nullify any temptation to ALT+TAB to a browser, or chat window, or a quick game of Chips Challenge running in Wine.

  • Spartan GUIs or text interfaces have fewer distracting Das Blinkin Lights, relatively speaking.

  • Old machines and word processors have their charms. Why wouldn’t you want to write on something old and cool, instead of something new and meh?

  • Some old keyboards were garbage. Some were wonderful. The latter, turns out, are still great to type on.

  • Writers have muscle memory going back to the days of WordPerfect or Paperback Writer. I think The Beatles sang a song about that.

  • Fast character recognition. Modern computers have higher latency between key presses and typing, which I absolutely notice now.

Just reading this post makes me want to get out my X1 Carbon ThinkPad, play around with Arch, and configure myself a device dedicated to writing. It wouldn’t even be that complicated for me, since my blog is really just a bunch of markdown files that are put together on my server using Hugo.

The idea makes my mind go back to a video by Joshua Blais where he talked about using a 10 year old ThinkPad, and also how he uses various devices to keep contexts defined and separate.

I think it’s time to download a fresh Arch ISO, make myself a coffee, watch some of Joshua Blais’ videos, and play around with a ThinkPad.

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