“In a virtual world becoming even more paperless, the sound of pencil on paper is a vanishing sensual delight.”
— William Least Heat-Moon, Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened 

Taking notes by hand

Taking notes by hand

Hand-painted letter

Hand-painted letter

One of the things about being old is that we have lived through the extinction and obsolescence of so many things.  I took a few moments to jot down some of those things that I grew up with that are no longer part of my landscape:

  • the ticking of clocks
  • winding watches
  • the smell of mimeographed paper (and purple ink)
  • rotary phones
  • card catalogues in libraries
  • film cameras
  • the slam and ding of typewriter carriages
  • the dying dot when we turn our television off

And here are a few more that are on the endangered list:

  • tying shoelaces
  • legible signatures
  • cursive writing
  • balancing checkbooks
  • writing checks
  • public telephone booths
  • button boxes, needles and thread, mending
  • hand-written letters
  • clothes lines, clothes pins, and line-dried laundry

I’m happy with many of the advances in technology and medicine, but I am not always pleased when a well-working technology is upgraded against my wishes.  The incremental improvements are often not things I need nor want, and I have to spend time figuring out how to accomplish favorite tasks with new keystrokes and procedures — and they are almost never intuitive to me.  I can empathize with Calvin Trillin when he wrote that the most dreaded word in the English language for him is “upgrade.”

One of the big challenges for my future will be keeping up with the accelerated pace of technological changes.  I worry about the proportionate increases in screen time everyone is experiencing, especially young children.  I still get such joy from physical work and playing with my hands — cooking, writing, painting, housecleaning, holding books I’m reading . . .  The passive pleasures delivered through screens seem shallow and less soulful.

David Sax, in Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, writes optimistically about a return to things analog.  He says, “Surrounded by digital, we now crave experiences that are more tactile and human-centric.  We want to interact with goods and services with all our senses, and many are willing to pay a premium to do so, even if it is more cumbersome and costly than its digital equivalent.”  And, “. . . if you want vibe, warmth, soulfulness, things like that, you will always be drawn back to analog.”

Yes, we can build an artful, well-lived life through our conscious choices.  But we are often bucking the tide.  Sax quotes Nicholas Carr in The Glass Cage: “We assume that anyone who rejects a new tool in favor of an older one is guilty of nostalgia, of making choices sentimentally rather than rationally. . . . But the real sentimental fallacy is the assumption that the new thing is always better suited for our purposes and intentions than the old thing.  That’s the view of a child, naive and pliable.  What makes one tool superior to another has nothing to do with how new it is.  What matters is how it enlarges us or diminishes us, how it shapes our experience of nature and culture and one another.”