opyright 1999 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved
Crank's Corner: Commentary by Linda Marcas
Analog Woman, Digital World
For anyone who might have noticed that my last column, "I Want Some Service," seemed
rather muddled toward the end, let me note: the computer at the newspaper "ate" 96 words,
words which were part of two separate paragraphs, words which just happened to contain
the Main Point of the coulumn. This time, J.P. did not disjoint my column with his happy
scissors; no, this time it was The Ghost in The Machine. If you'd like to read what I actually
wrote, stop by the News office or send a S.A.S.E. to Crank's Corner, "Service, pg. 3" c/o
the NB News. I might not always make sense in person, but I try to make sense in print.
Those of you who have ever been on the receiving end of a similar computer glitch will
understand and perhaps sympathize with my frustration. I'm not really a Luddite; I don't
believe that technology is inherently evil. I am, however, opposed to the notion that machines
are somehow "better" than people, just because machines, in certain circumstances, are
stronger, faster, or more accurate.So what if they are? Machines are meant to accomplish a
task, the quicker, the better. People, on the other hand, are alive, and life is a process rather
than a task. Most people are not in a rush to get their lives over with as soon as possible;
nevertheless, we run around worrying about not getting enough done, meanwhile complaining
that the stress is killing us.
As usual, I have a theory. Much of our stress derives from the fact that we've fallen into the
of judging ourselves by the same standards we use to judge our machines: speed, efficiency,
tasks done, tasks not done. But we are not machines!
Machine work is simple stuff, with an end product that can be counted in numbers; in other
words, it's digital. Humans are infinitely more complicated; in order to stay alive, we must be
capable of dealing with continuously variable circumstances. Life is an analog process, and
judging it in digital terms just makes you depressed.I'm fighting my own battle against the
digital dementia of the modern world by obstinately clinging to a few outmoded technologies,
simply because I enjoy the process of using them. This might be crazy, old fashioned, or
merely different. Efficiency is itself a variable, depending upon one's point of view
Remember learning to tell time by using the "big hand, little hand" method? That type of
clock is analog, not digital; when you have insomnia, does knowing that it's 2:59 instead of 3
o'clock make you any sleepier? Is your electric digital alarm clock more efficient than my old
wind-up one on those nights when the power goes out for a few seconds and you wake up,
late, with "12:00" blinking at you. Have you ever had to look twice at your digital wristwatch
to see what time it really was? Wi1l that watch become a treasured family heirloom? How
much time have you "saved" by not winding clocks, and do you know what you did with it?
Time flies, but at my house it says, "tick-tock" as it passes.
I write this column on a portable manual typewriter because I enjoy the physical process of
doing it that way, the motions and sounds of the keys and the carriage return. I don't write
quickly; I ponder, I edit, I type the whole thing over again and usually meet the deadline with a
minute or two to spare. I don't waste any electricity; the machine doesn't sit there chugging
away while I make more coffee and smoke another cigarette. I can't accidentaly erase
People tell me that it would be easier and more efficient to write by using a word processing
program on a computer; they're right, because then I wouldn't be writing this at all. I'd be
efficiently washing my hair or stringing beads or doing the dishes. (By hand, of course; if I
used a dishwasher, I'd have to give up using 1950s painted glassware, because dishwashers
At this point in my life, however, the process of writing involves using this typewriter. I can
out on the balcony if I want to; some night I might even take it to the bowling alley with me.
Maybe the typewriter is an improvment; I used to write everything in longhand, using a
fountain pen.There is an old song about John Henry, a railroad worker who won a contest
against a steam-
powered drill by using sledge hammers to drive holes into rock. He beat the machine; then he
dropped dead. I'm not exactly sure what he proved. Perhaps the modern moral of the story
is that humans will never be machines, so it is deadly for us to try to beat machines or to judge
ourselves by a digitally measured output. Enjoy your life as a variable, analog process; you
can do that more efficiently than a machine ever will.