Friday, June 30, 2017

Analog Crutches

My desk isn't always this cluttered.
I couldn't fit the turntable (which is across the room) into the picture.
I'm listening to side one of Paul Simon's Graceland, a vinyl record spinning on my turntable. I have a Leuchtturm1917 writer’s notebook next to my weekly planner and two fountain pens. I’ll grind coffee beans by hand, boil water, and use the Aeropress to make a second cup after I'm done writing this. No fewer than six library books sit on the shelf and coffee table. And my next writing will be on a typewriter. All of which is to say I’m feeling happily analog.
I'm no technophobe. I'm all about Tesla, SpaceX, Google, and the next thing in phones. I love the Chromebook on which I'm typing. My portable bluetooth speaker and streaming music service are marvels. I’m always curious what’s next and excited for the future.
Still, it's increasingly important to me to be wary of the problems inherent in this electronic, connected world. Obvious things like kids staying indoors too much, how we are getting fat, and social networking replacing friendship. Then there’s the ransomware troubles the NSA gifted us and getting people (including me) to pay attention to the world outside their phones is a struggle.
The analog world is real and I'll take real over virtual every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I find myself too easily lost in the virtual world to the exclusion of walking the dog through the neighborhood. What a relief it is to put down the phone, pick up the leash, and walk away untethered.
I'm not trying to be a curmudgeon, but I'll accept the label. I'm not trying to convince you to buy a turntable and records, fountain pens and notebooks, or typewriters. I'm not trying to convince anyone but myself.
For a few years I've been interested in tools that last and work well doing one thing as opposed to the Swiss Army Knife smartphone trying to be all things for all purposes. My notebook and pens make writing a dream. The turntable plays music. The typewriter is good only for drafting. Using them I do one thing at a time and do it better than when distracted.
Right now I'm in full-screen mode on my Chromebook, hiding open tabs, the clock, and notifications. My phone is an arm's reach away, but not on my desk, and I have long ago shut down notifications other than for calls and texts. Nothing else requires immediate attention.
I’m tempted to check Google Photos. My daughter and wife are posting pictures from their trip to Lisbon. I wonder if anyone responded to my latest blog post. What’s happening on Twitter and Facebook? It takes effort not to be distracted. This is the curse of the digital/virtual world: I'm so tempted to lose focus.
Analog tools don't tempt me to do anything but the work I'm doing. Vinyl records encourages me to listen to the whole side of an album. Pen and notebook encourage me to stay with an idea. The typewriter doesn’t allow editing as I write. The limitations of these things free me from my lack of discipline and focus.

I use analog tools as a kind of crutch. I may not be strong enough for the digital world. It takes too much to resist temptation and focus on what’s important. I'm probably the only person in the world with that problem, so don't worry about your smartphone, laptop, and digital streams. I'm sure you've got it all under control. Me, I’m going to make a cup of coffee and then sit with my notebook or maybe the typewriter and see what I have to say.