The page is empty.
Your deadline looms.
The cursor blinks.
“Wonder what’s happening on Twitter?”
A precious half hour later, you’re back to the assignment and really laser-focused now, until … PING! You chase a pop-up alert right into Instagram quicksand.
If only there were a machine devoted to writing. Just writing, with no distracting apps or Wi-Fi rabbit holes.
Would you believe me if I told you such a machine exists? It’s called a “typewriter” and it was invented over a century before the smiling poo emoji.
It has — get this — NO SCREEN, yet it makes the most satisfying noises as it hammers your ideas onto actual paper with non-virtual ink.
But I learned to type a lifetime ago (school papers, Beastie Boys lyrics), and I’d assumed these curious objects had gone the way of the dodo.
Then I heard about Gramercy Typewriter.
In a cramped workshop/showroom in the shadow of the Flatiron Building, a father and son are two of the last typewriter caretakers in New York City.
Like the surviving knights of an ancient order, they grab their tools and answer the calls of boomer luddites who just really love the feel of a 1972 IBM Selectric and millennial hipsters craving a break from glass screens.
Which makes me wonder: Are they the last of a breed? Or the beginning of a handmade renaissance?
The “wonder” in “The Wonder List” is both a noun and a verb. As our lives get faster and our planet gets more crowded, I wonder what will become of the wonders of our world. My show is a search for the people and places, cultures and creatures on the brink of massive change.
“The Wonder List: Handmade” — which consists of the video above and the five you’re about to see below — adds professions to the list. I set out to profile the kind of craftsmen and women who have been shoved into niche obsolescence by the tidal wave of globalized mass production. Do they represent a quaint past or a smarter future?
I wonder … in a digital world, can digits with calluses still compete?
In a corporate world, can a three-man shop still survive?
And in a hurried world, how many customers are willing to wait? And wait. And wait … before they can unwrap something as common as a new guitar?
While a big factory might put 20 man hours into a decent six-string, at this a dusty little workshop in Wartrace, Tennessee, they’ll put in 60.
Gallagher Guitars is a case study in David and Goliath capitalism. But how long can this David survive?
Let’s say you’re a small business owner. You run a mom and pop shop just trying to keep up with the taxes and the payroll and one day a guy in a suit walks in and offers you $50 million dollars for your building.
In some Manhattan ZIP codes, it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time. And most people say “Yes, please.”
But in one of the last independent book stores in New York, I found three sisters who keep saying “no.”
Hats by Bunn
If you ask someone what they do for a living and they reply “I’m a milliner in Harlem,” there are only a couple possibilities. Either you’ve unwittingly traveled back in time or you are talking to Bunn, the most beloved hatmaker on Upper Broadway.
His creations are seen down at the Pentecostal church each Sunday and on the red carpet occasionally. When it comes to price and profit, his overseas competition will always be able to crush him, but he says there is something about crafting a custom hat for a neighbor that is impossible to measure in profit and loss.
His customers love him. But are there enough to keep going?
Brooklyn Seltzer Boys
By the year 2050, the oceans will hold more plastic than fish.
It’s the kind of sobering stat that might inspire more vigorous recycling, and thanks to an-old-meets-new kind of business in New York, plastic is giving way to etched glass, cast iron and house calls.
Meet the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys and learn how technology can save Old World customs — and why good seltzer should hurt.
Chelsea Miller Knives
Every day, busloads of aspiring young actresses arrive in New York with a dream.
But very, very few of them also bring an anvil. And a forge. And a burning desire to make us rethink the way we live by the way we cut.
Meet the woman who has people on yearlong waiting lists to buy her $800 knives.