The Hemingwrite — described as an "over-engineered typewriter for the 21st century" — should bother me. It's not just the pretentious yet bland reference to the Young Male Writer's favorite inspiration right in the name. It's not just the exhortation to use its long battery life and "pull a Thoreau," the time-honored practice of self-righteously rejecting civilization by making other people interact with it on your behalf. It's not just the shots fired at "tiresome and outdated" typewriters. It's the entire gestalt of nostalgia, self-help, and conspicuous, generic literary fandom that it evokes. It makes me want to be elitist and anti-intellectual at the same time.
Except that as an idea, I love it.
As its website readily admits, the Hemingwrite is a modern-day word processor. It combines a compact mechanical-switch keyboard (the high-quality alternative to standard rubber domes, beloved by gamers and typing enthusiasts) with a six-inch E Ink screen that shows you the time, the date, your words, and little else. Its internal storage will sync with Google Docs and Evernote, with what I can only imagine are fairly minimal software updates delivered over the air. It has a little handle, so you can carry it around. It's more convenient than the mechanical typewriter that I do, in fact, own (or the word processor and electric typewriters I grew up with.) It's more streamlined than the Wi-Fi-free netbook I successfully use for distraction-free writing, and it supposedly lasts several weeks longer than the laptop I usually end up trying to use for distraction-free writing. It's the kind of weird little single-use gadget that I love. It's even got echoes of the OLPC XO-1 that I was first fascinated, then hugely disappointed, by.
Note that I am saying "as an idea." The Hemingwrite exists as a decent-looking prototype, and its creators seem truly dedicated to building the highest-quality final product they can manage. But I'm not sure it's possible to create the thing they promise: a complex, highly ecosystem-dependent device that "lasts generations." The most immediate point of comparison, the Model M, works because it has no mind of its own; it's a peripheral you can map onto anything that accepts keystrokes. No matter how good the hardware is, or how replaceable the battery, it's going to be tricky to base a device around cloud syncing and then make it survive the passage of different wireless standards and word processing software, especially if it somehow outlives the company that builds it. I'm not sure how much I'm willing to spend on a more convenient version of a half-dozen writing implements I already own. And I'd honestly feel a little embarrassed answering somebody's innocent "what's that?" with "Oh, it's a Hemingwrite."
The Hemingwrite recently made the slate of semi-finalists for Engadget's Insert Coin inventor's competition, and it will be appearing in my home city of New York on November 7th. Looking at it would probably be like staring into a dark mirror.