Continuous unstoppable advancement has long been a cornerstone of the human condition. Humanity has considered itself at the forefront of achievement for thousands of years. This collective mindset has fostered our condition of planned obsolescence. Year-in and year-out, we seek the latest and greatest piece of tech. The newest car. The latest cell phone.
Those who subscribe to the latest and greatest have lost touch with the connections to the machines that aid them every day. One’s connection with their technological aids was once an intimate interaction between man and machine that is now universally marred with endless lines of computer code and the decisions of distant software developers.
We live in a world that could see the end of starvation using the things westerners throw away. It is important in our rapidly changing environment that we remind ourselves of the simpler times before spellcheck and autocorrect; a time when people lived in the moment and enjoyed it for what it was without seeking the next great achievement of the week.
I am writing on a 40-year-old Olivetti Lettera DL typewriter in this inspired moment. I write my first, second and third drafts unabashed by text recognition, spell check or grammar correction. Nobody to dictate the words, the letters nor the punctuation I stamp upon the page. I am free to focus on my inspiration, whatever it may be.
Many writers will tell you the importance of a first draft and how one must avoid distractions while writing it. This is often referred to as word diarrhea. Inspiration is fleeting and must be put to paper as quickly as possible. Many writers will resort to pen and paper, but I find even then, I am distracted by the quality of my handwriting or my cramping fingers. I rely on my trusted typewriter to help me put my ideas to paper before my distracted mind pushes the inspiration aside for some trivial nonsense. If I feel I need help to further develop my ideas, I turn to my dog, or Rudy, my childhood teddy bear, and we discuss my inner ramblings until we can make sense of them. I write my final copy using a laptop for the sake of distribution and correctness; a reluctant reminder that I do live in a digital age.
Similarly, I owned a very modern hybrid car for a short time. A 2010 Honda insight that boasted a plethora of driving “aides” such as fuel consumption scores and live readouts. The speedometer changed color based on efficiency and it sprouted little digital trees on the dash if I drove conservatively. I was so preoccupied by this sort of “efficiency game” one day that I drove straight onto the concrete median of a highway onramp. I survived with only minor injuries, but my new hybrid absolutely did not.
I still drive a slightly older modern car that does not merit any special recognition. Sure, it is reliable, safe, and efficient but despite the manual transmission my mind wanders, and I soon forget that I am travelling at breakneck speeds. On days like today, a day spent enjoying the simpler life of a writer tick-tap-dinging away on his Italian typewriter, a day in which the extent of travel might be to the grocery store, I drive my 1976 Volvo 245 station wagon. I am the second owner, no, caretaker of this 43-year-old timeless Swedish brick.
Oh, the joys of driving a rusty old Volvo. No shocks, so she bounces, and lots of rust and peeling paint. The engine sometimes runs rough, so I have to coax it smooth with gentle throttle manipulation. It may lack the sophistication of its contemporary, but when I am behind the oversized iron steering wheel roaring past a semi truck, the car speaks to me: “Please don’t,” it says. “Can we take the long way home through the country?” And of course, I am forced to oblige. The farms and woods of the country creep past in no distinct rush. I roll down the window and the cool breeze on my face carries with it the fresh decay of autumn. The radio plays ‘Danger Zone’ or some other classic rock and I cannot help but smile. I feel engaged with the Volvo as it bounces over railway tracks or leans just a little too far with every bend. I can feel the happy rumble of the 2.1L mechanically fuel injected engine through the accelerator and through my seat. We are one being singing along to the radio belting out “Highway to the danger zone.”
Thanks, Kenny Loggins.
When I pull up to Canadian Tire to pick up some supplies for my latest repair project, I often meet fellow enthusiasts. Last week I had the privilege to connect with a local Volvo authority figure. He gave me some valuable advice about body repair and showed me his modified Volvo 240 station wagon. We compared notes and the man gave me his phone number and told me to call him ever if I had any questions.
Old cars and aged typewriters may have their faults, and are sometimes more difficult to use, but there is an unspoiled connectivity to these unaltered mechanical creatures and the physical world in which they exist. There is no distant software developer dictating engine timing or typeset; just me and a machine. Using analog technology allows me to become fully immersed with the task at hand.
I love my ancient station wagon. I love my ancient typewriter. Most of all, I love the simple tactile joys of a bygone era. If ever you get the chance, I encourage you to learn to maintain an old car or purchase a typewriter to mend. The satisfaction of knowing you’re the reason it is still functioning, still alive — will fill you with an appreciation and attachment for what exists, instead of simply replacing it with the latest fad.