“Time was made for man, not man for time.”—The Cloud of Unknowing
Why is it that news that the Kremlin is going back to typewriters strikes me as so refreshing? After three decades of mania over personal computer devices, we see technology being humbled by its own “perfection.” Its influence is not so monolithic as one might have thought. In this instance, the ease with which digital information can be accessed or hacked has encouraged the Russian government to resort to old-fashioned paper-based record keeping.
There have long been “retro-tech” advocates. Some champion the use of typewriters that allow you to “type at a pace you can think.” I haven’t quite joined that crowd, being an inveterate scribbler and devotee of word processing. But I think it’s possible to exercise a discriminating use of technology while avoiding the hyperactivity that comes with being plugged-in 24/7. Not that long ago people could step away from their machines and monitors. Now not even the bathroom is a safe refuge from their ubiquitous demands.
The impact of portable devices on the workplace has been particularly dismal. It used to be that there was a natural ebb and flow to work and leisure. Few people were constantly “on call.” Doctors were, but they took it in shifts. These situations were fairly rare and people were compensated for it. Now everyone is “on call” and there’s no compensation other than the knowledge that no one has a life. It’s not that we are really more productive than we used to be, but there are new expectations about how “busy” we should appear.
That said, with the Russian example in mind, I can’t help but think (and hope) that reality will reassert itself. If enough people decide that they’ve outgrown technological novelty and want to be its master rather than its slave, then there’s a chance we can rein things in. Yes, it’s true we can do more and more things in the same amount of time. But should we?