My grandfather’s fountain pen; I will never forget it. I often used it to do my homework, practice lettering and draw pictures. I remember all the inkpots I collected with different colors of ink. I remember being amazed by the tenacity of the ink stains on my hands and how much I loved making inkblots. The pen had a certain weight to it and I loved the way it fit into my hands, like it was made for me. (Even though it was a hand me down). And I loved the fact that it reminded me of my grandfather, who is still alive at 95!
These days I don’t write with that pen much. I definitely don’t have to turn in homework and most of my correspondence is via phone, email or social media websites. I own an IPhone 5 (The most amazing IPhone yet), a wonder of technology and multitasking. In terms of access to technology, I am definitely in the higher strata of the food chain. I am able to access global information and connect with hundreds of people with the swipe of my finger. I am an exemplar of the benefits of technical progress we all strive for every day.
And yet in the process, I realize I have lost a few things. My IPhone has replaced many of the things I used such as pens, clocks, calendars, calculators, compasses and maps. All seem redundant and sit in various containers on my desk, looking a little sad and dejected at their own uselessness. But it is not just the material objects I am afraid we are losing. It is also the emotional content contained within these quotidian objects that is evaporating from our world. Objects like the IPhone are conceived as platforms for facilitating multiple tasks; intentionally designed to disappear in the background as we use them to check the weather, text a friend or watch a movie. Hence the minimalist aesthetic that they embrace in their design and construction. And this is not something limited to phones; computers, gadgets, cars and even buildings are being built as “platform objects” for us to experience the virtual world seamlessly. And this removes any potential for emotional attachment towards these objects. It makes them less lovable, more disposable and upgradable, and ultimately less sustainable.
Technology’s ultimate goal is to be ubiquitous and invisible at the same time. Technology interacts with the physical world more every day, embedding itself into objects big and small. As it becomes invisible, beneath the surface, it also fundamentally changes our relationship with the real world.
I remember going to the store to get my phone and the first thought that popped in my head as I opened the box was: “I can’t wait for the next one!” This is a dangerous pattern. What happens when we start to think in similar way about our homes and communities? Will we continuously upgrade our world until it loses all semblance of a place containing history, culture and myth?
I am no luddite, but I do believe that we need to gain a more nuanced view of technical progress and what long term impacts it will have on our society. I often think about the nature of the world our grandchildren will grow up in and I hope they will have objects around them that remind them of their own identity. And this is why I refuse to part with my pen, for it delivers much more than mere utility; it is a part of who I am.