Sunday, November 16, 2008

Call me a Luddite

I like tech toys. Normally, I'm a first adopter of the newest technologies. However, I have resisted a few tech toys, and will probably continue to resist them until I am forced to use them.

First: PDAs. I owned an HP100LX Palmtop PC way back in the late 1990s. It was a nice machine. I installed WordPerfect 5.1 and some other good DOS programs on it. I wrote and published a book using (mostly) the HP100LX. I replaced it with an HP Jornada, another so-called "palmtop PC." At one point, I totally replaced my paper day planner with the 100LX and the Jornada. After two and a half years, I went back to the paper day planner. I have steadfastly refused to own or use any of the palm/stylus/fingertip based products that have come and gone since then.

Why? Well, I can find names in a paper index faster than in an Address Book application on a PDA. I can see more information at a glance about an upcoming meeting, or past meeting notes, on paper than with a PDA. But most importantly, paper doesn't spontaneously reboot, abort memory, scramble memory, or run out of juice at critical times. And the ROI isn't there for a PDA, compared with the cost of paper refills, pens and other day planner supplies.

Second: Blackberries and other fancy cellular phones. I just use my mobile phone to talk with people. I don't text that much, I don't take very many pictures, and this latest cellphone wants me to pay to play a full game of Tetris. I admit that I do covet the Apple iPhone, and I would love to have one, but I would mostly use it as a classical telephone.

Third: MP3 players and iTunes. No, I don't want one. I can tell the difference between CD sound quality and MP3 sound quality. I prefer the CD sound, thank you -- or even a good, high quality cassette tape, played on a good player. I'm not such a Luddite as to say I prefer vinyl records (you know, the big black CDs that use a contact stylus) over CDs, because a well-mastered CD has sound quality equal or superior to the best vinyl record. But MP3s don't really do it for me.

Fourth: (until today) Blogs. I'm about four years late getting into the game. I've had my own website for a long time, but I've resisted setting up a blog until now. There are several reasons, and maybe I'll go into them another day.

So, you ask, why am I a Luddite?

I work with computers every day. I used to make computers and printers, or at least the components that went into them. I write video games. I'm an accomplished computer programmer. You'd think that I would be all for technology, as far as I can push it.

No. Why balance your checkbook electronically, when a paper one will do? Why buy special recipe management software, when a handwritten recipe book will do? Why buy an electric toothbrush, when a manual one will do? Why spend all that extra money buying an electronic anything, when you can save money and do just fine with the non-electronic, or non-electric, alternative?

I used to drive a 30-year-old Ford Mustang to work. There's something infinitely satisfying about controlling the car, and feeling it respond, through the mechanical linkages rather than through a central computer and electrical wiring. When I mashed down on the accelerator pedal, a jet on the carburetor squirted raw gasoline into the intake manifold and opened the carburetor's throat wide. When the cylinders got that raw gas and took a big gulp of air, the car jumped forward like a lion on the attack, with not even an instant's hesitation. With the new electronic cars, you have to wait for the central computer to intercept the motion of the accelerator pedal and decide what to do about it. And if today's car runs rough or has trouble starting, you can't open the hood and fix the problem with a big screwdriver and a pair of pliers.

I've always been a supporter of Project Gutenberg, and I've read several classic works as ebooks, downloaded from . But I get eyestrain trying to read for too long from a computer screen. Paper still works better than electronic displays for long periods of reading. And there's nothing as satisfying in the tech world as curling up on the couch with a comforter, a mug of hot chocolate, and a good book.


Mark Waite said...

I don't think you're describing being a Luddite so much as being a pragmatic. Luddites didn't want the new toys because they disrupted or destroyed their lives.

Pragmatics have tried the new toys, assessed their value, and decided that there is not yet sufficient value in the new toys to justify a switch from the old toys.

I've discovered the power of 3x5 cards as an organizational and structural tool. They are portable, low cost, and can hold a lot of information in a little space. They scatter onto a table for prioritization, then slip back into the pocket, retained their prioritized order nicely. Coworkers may think I'm a little nutty, but they've seen the results and seem to like them.

I recently needed to communicate a series of changes to colleagues in Massachusetts. I printed screen images of the pages to be changed, then scribbled notes and arrows all over the pages to show what was changing. Those hand written notes were converted to PDF on a handy local copier, then we reviewed the PDF file together.

The people in Massachusetts probably snickered at my "amateur PowerPoint", but I saved several hours of frustration by using paper and multi-colored felt tip pens instead of PowerPoint.

Pragmatics are looking for better ways, and accepting that sometimes new ways are not better ways.

Zyzmog said...

"Pragmatic": I like that. It's a much better description.