…although they weren’t necessarily electronic. The Atlantic reports:
Although writing’s mobility might seem a product of modern digital gadgetry, there’s nothing new about writing on the move. Digital tools are but the latest take on a long tradition of writing in transit.
Preceding smartphones by centuries, writing boxes were among the first mobile-writing inventions. Small and portable, these wooden boxes were equipped with a flat or sloped surface for writing and an interior space for storing materials like paper, inkwells, quills, pens, seals, and wax. Many also included compartments for storing letters and postcards, and secret drawers with locks for private papers, important documents, trinkets, and valuables.
Writing boxes had an effect a lot like that of today’s electronic devices: They created an aura around writing, investing tools with an energy and power that enabled writers to gain pleasure from writing—or from the idea of writing, which might be equally gratifying.
. . .
Like laptops today, writing boxes were common tools of working writers. Lord Byron used one, as did Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, and Charles Dickens. The poet Alexander Pope reportedly insisted that his writing box be placed on his bed before he woke so that he could immediately capture his thoughts in writing before leaving his bed. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton all wrote on writing boxes, too. In “The Laptops That Powered the American Revolution,” the historian Bethanee Bemis explains that during the Revolutionary War, Washington’s “most pivotal decisions” were issued from his writing box rather than from the battlefield.
There’s more at the link. Entertaining and recommended reading.
On a lighter note, Stephan Pastis notes one possible drawback to the explosion of self-edited writing in this Internet age.
He may have a point! Certainly, non-electronic laptops would have slowed things down to an editorially more manageable flow…
There’s a lot to be said for a built in delay between hitting “reply” and the actual posting. especially if what you tapped was “reply all…” Not that it ever happened to me, mind, but I’ve heard stories.
Trouble can be had without the reply part…
Way back in the Dark Ages (perhaps, 1997) a graphic artist at $WE_BUILD_SCALES thought he’d show off and e-mail the whole plant his latest image. 1997. Small capacity (by today’s standards) mailspool. And he sent everyone a copy. Not a pointer to a web server, or a file server, their own copy. Of the original. The huge original. The uncompressed huge original. It was a few days before the plant email was working again.
IBM was hit by the CHRISTMA.EXE.
it was a little executable that would draw an ASCII art Christmas tree on your screen. Then it would mail itself to your mailing list.
They finally got it under control by shutting down the worst affected locations — no one was doing any work there, anyway — making announcements that everyone was to delete the email on sight, and posting announcements on the door the next day with the the same directions.
Let’s just say when I was active duty the story went around why a certain ‘agency all’ button was removed. You see, computers must be locked when one takes a restroom break, and custom was to prank anyone who was foolish enough to forget so they learn before Displeasure became official. One group of friends set up a mail list to send prank e-mails to each other when such occurrences happened. Alas ‘reply all’ and ‘agency all’ were right next to each other, and one day someone clicked the wrong button. And sent out some rather vulgar prank emails to people with many stars on their collars… and people who instructed those stars in what their purpose was.
Trouble was had. The button was gone, supposedly less than two days later.
The Smithsonian had a similar article about 2.5 years ago too — https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/laptops-powered-american-revolution-180958253/
When I was a kid, I saw a nice wood writing box, with inlays and carving. It was BEAUTIFUL. I have wanted one ever since! I never did get one, mostly because in today’s day and age they are horribly inconvenient. But man… You won’t find a “modern” laptop that is that pretty!
Oooh! I made myself a wooden toolbox, once, just to be able to say I made something… I should totally see if I can make a writing-box! That would be WAY cooler!
(And do a better job of keeping track of it… I have no idea where that toolbox wound up. Heavy and inconvenient, but it was mine. And I painted a little daisy on the side of it.)
I was thinking that we’ve had notebooks forever and throw a pen in your purse or pocket and who needs a writing box… except that the writing box included a surface to write on. The field notebooks for some industries have hard covers for that reason. I also got a nice notebook before I left school and lost easy access to the university bookstore that has a very thick back cardboard. It’s lovely.
Also now there are portfolios. A person could probably make a really nice one of those with wood and leather if you wanted to.
Some years ago a friend discovered that Academy sold these neat little zip-up fishing tackle boxes that were perfect for portable embroidery projects, with compartments for needles, thimble, scissors, different kinds of thread…
I sometimes wonder what the clerks at the local Academy thought about the sudden rush of middle-aged women buying fishing tackle boxes.
Tackle boxes make perfect portable repair kits to haul around to fencing tournaments for foils, epees, and sabers.
And they’re a heck of a lot more affordable than the equivalent boxes in the Craft section….
Berkley FireLine is sold in two formats, fishing line and jewelry thread. Guess which one is cheaper? Yeah, I buy my beading thread in the fishing department….
And of course tackleboxes are great for gaming miniatures.
Plans to make one like Jefferson’s. Challenging project.
couldn’t you count these as tablets,too?
My laptop is a clipboard. In addition to blank paper for writing poetry when I hear it, it contains a humor section, a science section, maps, and copies of thoughtful things to share. It includes a periodic table of the elements, and the latest info on the star that is coming for dinner in 1.2 million years.
I never have to worry about having it stolen. I never have to worry about it breaking when I drop it. I never have to worry about running out of power. Carrying a clipboard seems to confer authority to the its owner, so it is useful in that way.
I do periodically defrag the laptop by pruning paper, and file poems in those strange storage devices called filing cabinets. Paper is still the best long term storage media. That is why I enjoy my 12,000 real books.