Technology doesn’t save time; it just breeds dependence

Sunday, April 6, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:59 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I believe that the moment I discovered that it was virtually impossible to find a ribbon for my old Royal typewriter represented my last opportunity to work independently. Since computers came into my life, it has become a living hell.

Obviously they only make a few models of each type of computer because by the time things start breaking down you find that the particular model is no longer available.

A friend of mine, who works in retail, suggested that in the old days, businesses tried to locate new customers for their products. These days, she said they want to sell to the same customers over and over. Except in the case of automobiles, I think she has a point. Most people probably have bought fewer than five houses in a lifetime. I certainly still have my first sewing machine and kept my first vacuum cleaner for many years.

I have a friend who continues to write on his typewriter. He says that after witnessing the agony the rest of us endure, he will stick with his old Underwood.

Computer literate types always brag about how much time they save, but they never talk about how much time and how many brain cells are lost when the machine malfunctions, which seems to be about once a week.

Young people have the advantage in this case because they learn how to operate computers as young children ­— much as we did by learning to ride bicycles— so by the time they are adults, they are old hands at them. They are good at all the new technological devices. Unfortunately, some employers are having a problem keeping their young employees’ minds on their work. Several people I talk to complain that their employees are spending most of their time talking on their cell phones and text messaging their friends. One roofer told me that he caught one of his young employees on a rooftop text messaging.

It was only a few years ago I learned from personal experience that because of calculators and cash registers doing mathematics, people were losing their ability to do arithmetic. As a matter of fact, I don’t know when I’ve seen a young person sit down and use a pen to write. Within a few years, I suppose they will have forgotten how.

I’m one of those old-fashioned types who resents being dependent on complex and fancy technologies to survive. As dependent as we are on electricity, it’s hard to believe that people lived for centuries without it and got along just fine. Today it’s difficult for us to go 24 hours without electricity.

Of course, it only takes one natural disaster to wipe all of our technological toys out, and I suppose that’s why I resist putting all my eggs in that basket. Maybe, I’m afraid of losing my survival skills if I allow myself to totally rely on these toys. I’m always reminded of the man who had three doctoral degrees, landed on an island in the South Pacific and realized that he was the only man in the village who lacked the skills to build his own hut to live in.

Chances are it will never come to that, but I prefer to avoid the risks. So, every now and then I like to drag out the hammer, saw and nails and get back to basics. Lack of space required that I get rid of all my old typewriters, but I can’t tell you the number of times when I would give anything to have one handy, especially an old IBM Selectric. Now that was what I call an awesome machine.

Nevertheless, most of us are at the mercy of computers these days to sink or swim. Frankly, I spend so much time on the river bottom that it’s beginning to feel like home.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ellis Smith April 7, 2008 | 7:11 a.m.

Technology is what we make of it. If I give a beautiful, rare violin to a skilled violinist, he or she can use it to produce excellent music.

If I give that same violin to a raccoon, the raccoon is most apt to damage or destroy the violin, and in any case I probably won't hear much music.

Technology is not a substitute for good sense. For example, in solving equations using a scientific calculator or a computer one may end up with a string of digits displayed on the screen, but he or she is seldom justified in using all those digits in his or her published answer. There are rules for that.

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