The boy lies in the grass with one blade
Stuck between his teeth
A vague sensation quickens
In his young and restless heart
And a bright and nameless vision
Has him longing to depart. N Peart
I was born in 1965, the same year the first ever desktop computer hit the market. The Programma 101 by Olivetti arrived, and overnight, computers went from looking like this:
To looking like this:
We took a very different view of computers back then. People were ‘a bit terrified of them’, and concerned that computers would be used to control everything and take away freedom.
I don’t recall ever using a computer during my school years. All our work was written in books, drawn on paper, listened to on tape and vinyl. Signals were likely to be distorted, there was interference, and feedback. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the pen and the brush were among the devices I used which provided some of that feedback. The signals might be quite subtle, but they were there. The response of the writing and drawing instrument when crafting different letters, different shapes, and shades. You don’t get this subtle feedback from a keyboard or a stylus.
He picks up scraps of information
He’s adept at adaptation
Because for strangers and arrangers
Constant change is here to stay. N Peart
I started work in the mid 1980s, by which time computers looked something like this:
A decade later I was selling computers to earn a living, and they were common place in people’s homes and at work. I remember starting work for BT in 1996 and being surprised to find no computer at my desk. Some of my colleagues were quite happy to still be relying on inter office memos stuffed in envelopes, and though people were given email addresses – there seemed to be no compulsion to use them.
Fast forward to now, and for most people who read this blog, the idea of not being connected to your work through computers and other devices is practically impossible.
Love them or loathe them, etcetera. And yet…
Analog Kid : Digital Man
…for all the advantages of digital, there remains something distinctly ‘connected’ about working in analog. Those subtle signals I mentioned earlier – the feedback a pencil gives you when you write and draw – that’s a very desirable thing. I recently spotted my friend Euan Semple talking about Blackwing Pencils on Facebook. I followed the crumb trail and discovered you can pay $25 for a box of 12 Palomino Blackwing 24 pencils, produced as a tribute to Pulitzer Prize winning author John Steinbeck. In truth, you’ll be lucky to find these available for sale, they are a limited edition pencil (I swear I had no idea there was such a thing), and seemingly the only way to guarantee a set of these, or at least of future limited editions, is to join The Blackwing Club. Pencils as a desirable collector’s item, how about that?
I digress. Limited edition or otherwise, I believe the humble pencil, pen, and brush remain essential tools to work with. For all the speed with which I can ramble on here, each digit I produce on the screen feels just the same as the last. Q = W = E = R = T = Y. I know from my own experience and from the feedback I gain through arts based learning, that using analog tools to supplement your digital work, creates fundamentally different outputs. When we work like this, I and others see, hear and feel emotions much more clearly, and there seems to be a greater presence of something you might call humanity, when people are creating work together, by hand.
I don’t want to get all dogmatic about this, working by hand is not the answer to making work better, it is an answer. Thankfully, not everything follows Moore’s Law.