COLUMN: Slowing Our Lives
Published: Monday, January 27, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014 01:01
When I pick up a newspaper, I’m not comforted by the feel of its pages or by the familiar smell of the newsprint. Instead, I’m reminded that the thing I’m holding represents a “dying” industry (sorry, Heights), leaving me nostalgic for a mythic golden age of well-crafted, long-form journalism and the “good-with-your-handsness” that I imagine my grandparents’ generation had. In this perhaps figment past, people took pride in the process of creation, not just the in final product.
I often find myself paralyzed by this kind of nostalgia, and seeing as a first column prompts some kind of introduction, I thought I would talk about it. In order to look forward, I’m constantly looking backward. I admire people who do things by hand, who really know how to do what they do. They are true masters of their crafts—a rarity in an economy that often demands quantity over quality. No matter the craft, whether it’s writing or art or carpentry, it takes time and care. The whole concept of craft seems antithetical to a world truncated to 140 characters.
I don’t mean to say that nobody is good at what he or she does anymore. It’s arguable that scientists are better at what they do now than they ever were before, and tech powerhouses in Silicon Valley prove every day the power of human ingenuity. People still have crafts, but what those crafts are and how people go about doing them is changing every day, thanks to the speed and ease of technology.
I’m not a Luddite—I tweet voraciously and have at times Instagrammed more than five pictures in one day (#aggressive)—but I often resent technology for disconnecting us, literally, from the things we do. French literary theorist Roland Barthes lamented the use of plastic instead of wood in children’s toys in his Mythologies. He mourned the superior tactile quality of wood as well as the loss of craftsmanship that the shift to plastic seemed to represent. It’s the same kind of unsettling and crude unnaturalness that Barthes saw in plastic that I see in virtual substitutes for real life—they seem to corrupt some sacred hierarchy of quality and authenticity.
Although I know doing things “the old fashioned way” is generally less efficient, I’m scared that we no longer see the value of the tactile. Being able to do it that way demonstrates true mastery. I’m not suggesting we start doing things the way they “used to do it,” but if we always rely on technology to fill in ability gaps, we’ll have jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none.
I know that my tech-phobia makes this sound like another “kids-these-days” column that sees Doomsday edging nearer with every new tweet, but I don’t mean it that way.
I think we need to rethink our priorities. As students who spend four years engrossed in subjects that might seem “impractical,” we especially should be reluctant to see the book phased out for its digital counterpart or the careful, intellectual process of writing deemed too time consuming. It will be increasingly difficult for us to use our passions in the workplace if we don’t slow down our demand for quantity enough to appreciate the quality that results from time and finesse. While this might be the millennial in me talking, thinking I’ve been endowed with this right to a fulfilling vocation that I’m passionate about, I think the implications of forgetting to remember the distinction between the virtual and the tangible is as unsettling now as it was for Barthes in the 1950s, and for good reason. We are what we do.