The effect of nostalgia on our perception of the past is considerable. It's like a thick smear of Vaseline on the lens of a movie camera, blurring our objectivity. From the far side of the millennial divide, a photo of a typewriter doesn't just show a machine but an icon of unalienated modernist writing. The typewriter has become a symbol of a non-existent sepia-toned era when people typed passionately late into the night under the flickering light of a single naked bulb, sleeves rolled up, suspenders hanging down, lighting each new cigarette off the smouldering butt of the last, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of bourbon in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.
Here's an object lesson: walk down to the corner bookstore and see how many books — novels, memoirs, and anthologies alike — sport covers featuring grainy sepia-toned close-up photos of of typewriter keyboards. You'll be there a while, I guarantee it, because there are far too many examples to bother citing. The typewriter is the pre-eminent symbol for earnest, unalienated writing and one of the biggest visual clichés of our age.
From The Iron Whim: A Fragmented History of Typewriting (McClelland & Stewart, 2005) at 25 & 26.