Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tools vs. toys.

There's an article in today's New York Times about Cormac McCarthy retiring his Olivetti typewriter that he bought in a Knoxville, TN pawnshop in 1963 for $50. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/books/01typewriter.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=cormac%20macarthy&st=cse

McCarthy has written an estimated five-million words on his typewriter and along the way established himself as one of the world's foremost writers, having picked up a Pulitzer, a National Book Award and an Oscar. It strikes me that there might be a lesson lurking somewhere in this story.

What makes McCarthy great is his ideas and his expression of those ideas. His Olivetti (and the one he bought for $11 to replace his old one) are just tools of his brain.

Today, of course our tools are more sophisticated than typewriters. We can do sophisticated motion graphics and editing at our desks or on a plane. We can make type dance like Isadora Duncan on LSD. We can compose and record music. We can buy a $49 video camera and shoot stuff.

These are all things Mr. McCarthy can't do on his Olivetti. But they don't make us better than McCarthy. Because Mr. McCarthy's trade involves ideas.

So far no one has built a desktop app that produces those.

1 comment:

georgeeparker@msn.com said...

Great post. I shall rip it off for AdScam. do not regard this as plagarism... Think of it as an "homage." It's always way classier in French.