Microprocessing

This $35 Keyboard for Children Transformed Me Into a Novelist

And I’m far from alone

Angela Lashbrook
OneZero
Published in
7 min readJun 24, 2020

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Photos courtesy of the author.

In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today to give you a better tomorrow.

About six months ago, I decided I should probably do what I’ve been putting off for the past five years of my life and actually write a book. In the very early period of that experiment, I thought that what I really wanted, what would really help me get the damn words on the page, would be a computer that didn’t do anything but write. A typewriter, basically, but with a screen, so I wouldn’t have to retype into a computer the sludge I produced in that initial draft. What would that even be? I hadn’t heard of such a thing, but I knew it was what I needed if I really wanted to barf up 300 pages of something that resembled a novel.

Eventually, I stumbled upon the AlphaSmart, a “portable word processor” first released in 1993 by two former Apple engineers who wanted to make teaching students how to type cheaper and easier. My version, the Neo 2, was released in 2007, although like every other model, it was discontinued in 2013. It has a small grayscale LCD screen that fits up to six lines of text, though, in my opinion, it looks best at four lines. A USB cord transmits up to 200 pages from the device to the computer as a simple text file. Three AA batteries power it for up to 700 hours, and, at 1.75 pounds, it’s lighter and more portable than my supposedly lightweight 2.65-pound Dell XPS 13 laptop. At only $35 plus shipping on eBay, it was also substantially cheaper. Of course, it ought to be cheaper: The only thing the AlphaSmart does is type. And therein lies its appeal.

Writing is not the hardest job in the world, but it’s taxing enough that, like working out or scrubbing the baseboards, I’ll subconsciously drift over to any other task that requires even a little less effort. On a computer, this is very easy: Twitter, with its relentless stream of news and opinions and…

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.