Last night I was in Chapters for a little while, on a smokin’ date with my husband. Thanks to the endless patience and creativity of a woman and her crew in our church, we parents of younger kids get a night out once a month. She looks after the kids (and all ensuing chaos), feeds them, and entertains them while we hightail it to the nearest restaurant for the only peaceful meal we’ll get for a month. We pick them up again sometime before 9 pm, suitably wired and exhausted.
This is why my husband and I got to spend a few calm minutes in Chapters, browsing the books and generally participating in rampant consumerism.* I always walk through the sale aisle in case I see something I absolutely must have, and then I feel less guilty for purchasing it because, after all, it was half price! Last night the day planner notebooks were all 50% off and I longingly stroked the covers of all the Moleskine notebooks and day planners. But I have a smartphone, although I regularly call mine a dumbphone, and I use the Google calendar app so that I only need to record events and appointments in one place. I dislike it for its total utilitarianism, but I use it faithfully. Technically I really don’t even need a calendar on the wall. So I looked covetously and moved on. But then I came back again and debated, and then bought it.
No, I did not need that Moleskine day planner. I also don’t need my smartphone. I don’t need most of what I own. What I do need, what every human being needs, is beauty. My smartphone and its incomparable practicality are not objects of beauty to me. I admire people who do see beauty in their iPad or other technology. I admit that they do have a certain appeal – sleek, smooth, sophisticated and functional all at once. But I do not like what I become when I invest myself so heavily in a piece of technology.
If I lose it, we are out a great deal of money. Yes, $500 or more is a great deal to us. I’d have to work for a month and a half to pay for that. I take a long time to figure out the blasted gadgets. Batteries tend to go dead when I’m using my gadgets, and I’m amazed at often they need recharging. I concentrate so heavily on what I’m doing with the thing that I have no attention to spare for my children until they’re practically screaming “MOMMY!” in my ear. I turn into a major hazard when I’m texting or talking while driving. (I’ve scared my kids a couple of times by doing that, and now they regularly remind me not to answer the phone or look at it while driving.) I don’t like how technology insidiously creates a need for more technology by outdating itself almost hourly.
What I like about a pen and paper is the physical act of writing. I like the simple beauty of inscribing. A good pen is a joy to use because of the way the ink flows, how the tip of the pen moves across the paper. A notebook with a beautiful cover is a treat for the eyes and fingers. Good paper creates a good feeling as I sketch with a pencil or record my thoughts in words. I handwrote a letter to my husband’s grandparents last week. When I re-read it, it was considerably different from what I would have written in an email; more thoughtful, better vocabulary, longer. I try to use punctuation and grammar in the “traditional” fashion, rather than the form used my generation. I teach my children the same type of grammar, spelling, and punctuation in their own writing. They even know the difference between there and their, and its and it’s.
Our dishwasher and microwave bit the big one shortly after we moved into our house. It’s expensive to fix or replace them, but we could do it if we really felt a need to. I think my husband feels more of a need than I do. :-) It’s been a year since they both quit, and currently the dishwasher holds all the kids’ craft supplies, and the microwave is really good at ripening my bananas, avocados, and tomatoes. I’ve discovered that I enjoy the act of cleaning up the kitchen (although not particularly at 9 pm). I can think and pray while I wash dishes in a way that I couldn’t when I was loading the dishwasher. The dishes get done after each meal and my three oldest get to learn how to wash the dishes so they come out clean. We don’t run out of cutlery or dishes before meals. I also use my pots much more frequently and have discovered that reheating food for six people takes pretty much the same amount of time on the stove as it did in the microwave. I suspect that food heated on the stove is healthier for us than microwaved food anyway.
Technology has a way of removing us from our need to complete daily tasks, and the beauty and satisfaction there is in doing something tactile, whether it be handwriting a note or washing the dishes. Technology speeds up processes but increases impatience. It removes us from each other. I need the slower pace a less technical life provides so that my daily chores, like laundry, cooking, or dishes, become acts of love and gratitude towards myself, my family, and God. I need the space and clarity handwriting gives. I’m not saying that technology is bad. After all, I’m thankful for my warm house, my washer and dryer, my iPod and CD player (yes, I still buy CDs). I am thankful for the option to move slower, to enjoy the daily acts that constitute living.
My husband affectionately calls me a Luddite.
*Just a side note – we rarely buy anything at Chapters. But I count looking wistfully as consumerism because I never knew I needed – perhaps wanted is a better term – any of the Stuff for Sale until I saw it.