Returning to pen and paper could be the remedy for failing tech - Laura Waddell

First I notice an erratic battery percentage.

I had seventeen percent, enough juice to batter out a few paragraphs and respond to a handful of emails, but in the blink of a computer screen it has has plunged to zero. Then keys start feeling shoogly, threatening to pop off. I recognise these symptoms with a sigh. Once again my electronics are breaking down. I prepare myself for the inevitable and expensive demise by ignoring the signs until I am forced to repair or replace my laptop in order to get any work done.

Last time this happened, I kept typing until three keys were utterly kaput. Eventually I lost the will to keep popping the plasticy little tiles back on, like a game of Scrabble I was scoring zero in. I’d get one reattached, placed carefully in line over the sensor, hooked into tiny metal levers, before another leapt off. I’d be head down, working on a long document, and having to physically wrangle my keyboard as weak keys lifted back up, sticking to the tension of my fingers and clattering to the floor. Frustrating at home, hunting Fs and Cs down between sofa cushions, but even more so in a cafe, scraping chairs and tables to pick up an errant R or P, hoping nobody nearby noticed the ridiculous predicament of my letters pinging off.

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Let me tell you, arming yourself with a butterfly net in order to type is not conducive to getting into a state of flow. Try having writer’s block and your letters jumping off and tumbling away.

Of course, these problems are what we’ve been told to expect of our electronic reliance. Besides the problem of planned obsolescence, where devices are built with the expectation they will be replaced after only a few years, new editions freezing out the old, there are the companies that force consumers into replacing parts with their own brand and make it very expensive to do so. Technological advances in consumer electronics promise the weird and wonderful, but I don’t care about folding phone screens or holographic gimmickry: I just want a machine that works and lasts, old-fashioned durability as a selling point.

As I continue rethinking my relationship with tech, perhaps it’s time for me to go analogue. In January, while on artist’s residency in Finland, cut off from wifi most of the time and incensed in a snowy bubble of calm focus, I went back to pen and paper, influenced by the book What It Is by Lynda Barry which strongly advocates writing by hand for how it can draw out memory and meaning. For all hammering away at battered old tech makes writing feel hands on in its own frustrating way, going back to paper gave me a different relationship to my words. My thoughts went exploring, and I felt closer to my pen as it traced the texture of the paper in front of me. A lit screen bearing a blank word document and blinking cursor, word count lurking at the bottom of the page in judgement, doesn’t invite exploration in quite the same way.

Going back to pen and paper gave Laura Wadell a different relationship with words, the author writes. PIC:



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