Sitting in a flat in Scotland, a friend pulled a cassette tape from his collection and implored me to listen. The scratchy sound of Cape Breton fiddle tunes recorded in a dance hall filled the room. “Hear how much slower it was?” he asked, with sadness in his voice.
It was the first time someone drew my attention to the subtle shift in the speed of life. This was just after we’d entered the 21st century. Most people I knew, including myself, didn’t own a cell phone. We looked up information in encyclopaedias. There was no Facebook, no Spotify, no Fitbits. And yet the impacts of technology and time had already created an increase in tempo that had permeated to the traditional music of our culture.
I was reminded of this conversation recently when another friend shared the story of the closing of Twin State Typewriter, a small typewriter repair shop in Vermont that has operated for nearly 50 years. Wanda and Don Nalette’s shop isn’t closing because business is slow. The Nalettes say demand is actually great; the shop can’t keep up with orders and the money is good. It’s simply their time to retire.
It was the comments from customers that resonated with my friend and brought that late night music discussion to mind. As she wrote, “One man … spoke of the relative slowness of typewriters compared to computers; the need for thought, deliberation, and the authenticity of not having spellcheck.” He says writing on a manual typewriter “gives me the chance to think about what I want to say” and avoids having a “robot” offering suggestions as he writes.
I spend my days churning out digital content on my laptop, yet I remember the joy of clacking away on my first (and only) typewriter. When I started a special project this summer, I made the decision to work with pen and paper to draft my stories. There is a magic that comes into the process when we step back from technology, and I’m starting to wonder what intangible elements we’ve collectively given up as we’ve welcomed technological advances into our lives.
Writing is faster. Music is faster. Travel is faster. We live in a constant state of expecting immediate results. But at what cost? The pace is so quick we don’t have time to process what’s happening. Technology can be created to keep up with our physical demands, but our emotional needs are much more important and not always given the time to even put their hand up and ask for a break.
It’s as if we’re part of a movie someone is watching with the ‘advance scene’ button stuck on all the time. You can see the movements and hear the words, but everything is rushed. There’s no time to process what’s going on, barely time to react let alone try to anticipate what’s happening. The beauty of the experience is dulled and the purpose becomes unclear.
We need to give ourselves time again. Time to make mistakes. Time to hear the nuances. Time to pause. I do see this happening in spurts. People turning to journaling. The adult colouring craze. Yoga. Runners and cyclists find this quiet sometimes, depending on what’s streaming in their ears. Writers choosing typewriters over laptops. We haven’t lost the ability to slow down yet, but I’m not sure it comes as naturally to us or our children as it did a generation or two ago. Those small shifts, like in the tempo of a tune, tell me we’ve changed in a fundamental way, and our challenge is now how to be deliberate and intentional within this new pace of life.