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Coming To Grips

04 January 2009


low tech writer

These essays are now also available in book form, printed on real paper


I am coming to grips with the possibility that I don’t trust technology. I don’t mean my computer. I mean the impulse to solve problems by subscribing to pre-existing mass-produced solutions. You can find these solutions spit out of molds and assembly-lines and printing presses throughout recent history. Such “solutions” feel soul-numbing to me. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s how my soul responds to anything that looks and works the same in any home. It may be fast, convenient, processed food, or a best-selling book about how to solve your Problem, or a piece of furniture that makes everyone within 10 miles of Ikea feel like the exact same unique and interesting individual. I don’t want to make grand, sweeping generalizations, but in general when you set out to make a profit, you have to resort to technology to increase your productivity. When you set out to make something beautiful, you have to avoid technology (and by that I mean, “someone elses technique”), because it will stifle your creativity. I know it’s not black and white. But I’m not here to argue for high-tech, am I?

I want to catalog the beautiful things I find, the low-tech successes and survivors, the things that make you feel kinda funny in your tummy when you see them, like you “wish you could have one”.

Years ago, when I told people I worked in the tech industry as a writer, they invariably asked if I was a “Tech Writer”. I would say, “No, I write everything else,” by which I meant the business documents and the marketing materials, which was a kind of tech writing, but not in the way people meant (tech writers usually wrote manuals and other documentation). When I got my first full-time writing job, my card said, “Content Producer”, which of course meant I filled the Web sites and other marketing pieces with content, but my friend Greg took a look at that and purposely mispronounced it “conTENT producer” which happened to be a good description of me at the time. I was content. I love writing. But it also didn’t take long for me to tire of writing about the tech solution that we were working on, and want to write about things with more meaning.

I am not anti-tech. I know that computers are solving important problems in the world (but note with interest that the most impressive efforts in this regard are the low-cost, simple, durable computers that are being made for widespread distribution in developing nations). I myself like computers and the associated tools. I like the computer I am writing on, and do not intend to bite the hand that allows me to publish these words so easily. But I do NOT want to write about such things. There is no shortage of words written about tech. Here in Silicon Valley (and in the Silicon Alleys and all the other places that aspire to cutting edge technological distinction), it’s important to pay attention to the low tech things that survive … these artifacts haven’t been rendered obsolete because they serve humanity just fine, even if they are not superstars of progress. It’s important because they are worth honoring, and get so little attention in this economy.

And so today I am a writer of a kind further from what “they” meant - a low tech writer, in search of things less technological, less programmable, less homogenous. And when I find them, I’ll write about them on the Internets.