The Atlantic

Writers Have Always Loved Mobile Devices

Writing boxes, popular from the 17th century, provided the same pleasure as today’s laptops and custom word processors: to make the experience of writing pleasurable, whether any actual writing gets done. An Object Lesson.
Source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture / NYPL

Writing is a mobile art. People do it on laptops, tablets, and phones. They write—or type—while walking, waiting for a doctor appointment, commuting to work, eating dinner. 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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min readScience
The Fraught Effort To Return To The Moon
NASA wants to put people back on the lunar surface in 2024, but it doesn’t have the budget.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
The Nationalists Take Washington
Prominent figures from Tucker Carlson to John Bolton gathered at the Ritz-Carlton to declare war on the conservative establishment and lay the groundwork for a new intellectual movement on the right.
The Atlantic4 min read
Can A Film Be A Love Letter To A Country?
New movies from the writer-directors Lulu Wang and Diana Peralta explore complex questions about national belonging and communal responsibility.