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Five Old School Things To Consider Doing Again

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I have a not-so-secret hope that we’re reaching a sort of technology nausea point, when it becomes utterly clear that pre-digital (or at least pre-smartphone) approaches to certain things were better in many ways, and we begin to re-adopt them for that simple reason.

Even in 2010, we were still excited when, while doing something in the old, dependable, manual way, somebody said, “Hey there’s an app for that!” Today, the excitement comes when you realize you can do that thing much easier without trying to bumble through it on your phone.

As we approach the 2020s, I think we’re becoming more aware of what we’ve left behind. But a lot of it is still there if we want it.

Here are some places where I’ve enjoyed returning to the ways of years past.

1. Cooking From a Cookbook

There have always been a few recipes in my rotation that I had to open a cookbook for, and I couldn’t help but notice a hint of relief at that.

What a joy it is, when you’ve got flour everywhere and olive oil on your fingers, to simply glance over to an open book, rather than knuckle-scroll through clunkily-loading ads and long-winded anecdotes about the author’s husband just to check a measurement. You also don’t need to keep touching the recipe every so often to prevent it from disappearing.

Cooking from a cookbook also frees you from the psychological weirdness of contemplating a recipe’s “score.” Who knows if the 4.6-star hummus, which has no tahini, will actually be better than the 4.2-star one, which looks more like what you had in mind? Sometimes it’s nice not to know what the internet thinks.

Besides, If you’re in the habit of reading those reviews, you know how often the people who rave about a recipe didn’t even follow it.

2. Listening to an actual radio

Last year we got my mother a gorgeous, wood-encased, dial-operated radio, and it’s become a persistently warm presence in her home. I love being in the room with it playing.

You can’t punch any numbers into it, and there’s no screen to touch. You can only turn the dial, and watch the vertical plastic line advance across the little numbers. You get to enjoy those scratchy transition moments between classical and country and Michael Enright’s voice.

If you’re habituated to podcasts, you know the mental calculations that must be made in order to enjoy one in an unconflicted way. Should I catch up on that serial about a 1970s cult, listen to a fraction of this 155-minute interview, or resume the science talk from yesterday even though it was getting boring?

Listening to the radio, in the pre-digital way, involves one, much simpler calculation: leave it here, or turn the dial, and discover another sound.

3. Attempting to fix things when they break

I fixed my coffee grinder earlier this year, and it was an incredibly satisfying experience.

It’s such a rare pleasure to get a cherished device working again after it appeared to be dead. It’s especially satisfying if you were born early enough to witness the great phasing-out of virtually all sturdy, repairable goods, and the ascent of the (much more profitable) shitty, replaceable ones. To repair something today is to stick it to The Man.

Even just attempting to fix something is gratifying. My Dad assumed pretty much any device could be fixed if you just took it apart and looked at what connected to what. And often it was still perfectly good except for the tiniest thing: a broken solder, or a loose something or other.

If he couldn’t get it going, sometimes there would still be a repair shop where you could take it, and the dusty guys down there would check a few things and at least determine the offending part, and my Dad would find that satisfying too.

4. Blogging, or just having your own little website

I enjoy reminiscing about the time, about fifteen years ago now, when big business was really bad at the internet. Their websites contained nothing you’d want to read, just mission statements and contact information. The internet was for people. Organizations didn’t get it.

The web therefore had to consist mostly of personal expression—some form of “I made a thing! Check it out!”—because we didn’t know what else to do with this new connectivity. The blog was perhaps the most fundamental form of this direct expression: a website where a person would straightforwardly share what they were interested in, or thinking about.

I miss that era. Exploring the internet felt much more peer-to-peer, and far less predictable, like you were wandering through an infinite, hyperlink-connected labyrinth of ideas and creations. Today, most of our online “connecting” amounts to doing our usual social media routines alongside other people doing theirs.

(I even miss the old school “list post,” like this one. They weren’t all trash. Expect more of them from me.)

This summer I declared my intention to simply say what was on my mind again, in the old-school way. The landscape has certainly changed, and major platforms channel much of the available attention towards themselves. But in simply deciding to share my thoughts more freely, I have felt freer, and shared more.

5. Playing games around a table with other people

At the mention of board games you may picture dull and painful moments you don’t wish to revisit: getting three hours into a Risk game only to have someone quit, or watching hopelessly as your older sibling erects another hotel in Monopoly.

Or you may be well aware that a board game revival has been happening for a number of years now, and the landscape is much, much happier. Today’s tabletop games are quicker to play, easier to learn, made with all ages in mind, and fun even when you lose.

Many think-pieces have attempted to explain this unexpected resurgence in board games. Part of it, I hope, is that board games tend to create a type of genuine social experience that’s become far more rare in the always-online era. Sitting down to a board game gets everyone together physically, and also mentally—you can’t play a game while half-absorbed in your phone. It’s easy to be fully present, because there’s always something to do, to hope for, and to talk about. And because everyone gets a turn, nobody’s left out of the exchange.

Few other home-based activities do that. People barely even watch TV together anymore, because everyone has their own screens. Today’s fancy multi-player video games are typically played alone, in a dark room.

But the board game is right there in front of you, free of electronic tethers, connecting you. Long live board games, and everything like them. They bring people together in a divided world.

I doubt I’m alone in my affinity for the ways of yesterday. In what parts of life have you returned to an old school approach?


Photo by Eric Nopanen

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Joanna Schoff November 8, 2019 at 3:21 pm

I am old school sometimes. I call people on the phone and write letters. :)

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Cassie November 9, 2019 at 5:50 pm

I do too! My children also prefer phone calls to texting with their friends. I love this.

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Pat Stoltey November 8, 2019 at 3:45 pm

I have a flip phone which I rarely use but keep charged in chase of a flat tire or something. My husband and I play Boggle and Scrabble and just pulled two unopened puzzles from the closet to work on. I love my one little healthy Colorado cookbook but occasionally print out a recipe from my computer. My old trusty boombox works great for at home easy listening. And I mostly read print books with an occasional ebook on my tablet. Even though I’m computer literate and enjoy a little Facebook and Twitter, I hate being on the internet too much. I do think I’ll start blogging more about life instead of just books. Maybe.

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Rakushun November 8, 2019 at 4:52 pm

I am finding enjoyment in my move to fountain pens and journaling. I have an old 2nd hand iPhone which was a refreshing step back from the ‘busy ‘ of android. Now thats dying im thinking of stepping further back, i already only use it for maps and calculator. Im trying to disconnect from on demand services, instead read a book, watch a dvd and dabble with creative writing alongside planning my future potentials.

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Catherine November 8, 2019 at 5:46 pm

I use paper maps most of the time. I might go online to find a route, but I always check against a larger map to get the lay of the land. I don’t actually have a smartphone so I have to carry a lot of knowledge about my surroundings in my head, which means I must be more observant, too.

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Jim Butcher November 8, 2019 at 7:33 pm

This last Spring, I took on the challenge of fixing up an old bicycle that had seen better days. I figured I could take the easy route and just buy a new bike, but my circumstances were such that, for a bit of therapy, I needed a big distraction. Since I was only vaguely acquainted with bike repair, I researched a lot on the various parts needing repair or replacing, and now know the intimate details of bikes in general, and my machine in particular. In the process, I added upgrades to what would’ve been it’s original form. At times it felt a bit like a Zen In The Art kind of thing, and it was well worth the effort. Hands-on can be grounding.

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anna November 9, 2019 at 1:21 am

We had a board games before dinner drinks night which ended up being till past midnight. It was lovely and such good fun. It was great because the kids were able to be with the adults which i think is important for children to watch and learn how grown ups get on…. i can’t say we behaved very grown up though :-) A friend of mine came that was suffering from depression and came away cured (for the night). I have a flip phone that (i think) takes grey grainy photos, doesnt allow me to receive photos from others and cannot look at the internet. I am addicted however to the old school snake game on it though so i’m weening myself off with Georgette Heyer novels as a substitue. :-)

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Kevin O'Keefe November 9, 2019 at 3:16 am

There’s nothing more exciting than listening to jazz, blues and reggae on the public readio. And when it’s time listening to the news on NPR. A great way to spend the day.

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Kevin O'Keefe November 9, 2019 at 3:16 am

There’s nothing more exciting than listening to jazz, blues and reggae on the public radio. And when it’s time listening to the news on NPR. A great way to spend the day.

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KayJay December 30, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Every Sunday night…..we used to listen to the blues every Sunday night on PRI/KJZZ.
Speaking of music, I went shopping for music at a brick-and-mortar store. I forgot how much I enjoyed it. I called my longtime friend (I do talk on the phone too). I asked if he remembered when going to the new and used records, books and videos store was what we did for the day. I like the convenience of online music but it doesn’t compare to being surrounded buy music in a brick-and-mortar shop.

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Bill Brokaw November 9, 2019 at 7:06 am

I resurrected my darkroom a few years and have been enjoying shooting and printing rolls of film now and then. Shooting film is so much more deliberate than digital. No checking if you got the shot. It slows you down.

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Anthony @ dividendyieldlive.com November 9, 2019 at 3:47 pm

Really like the board games and fixing things suggestions. Board games are a great way to slow things down and get some real social interaction. Fixing things is really good for satisfaction and saving money.

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Done by Forty November 9, 2019 at 11:17 pm

Numbers four and five are such a big part of my life the past few years that I feel like I am at least doing something right.

I still like the feeling after I wrote a thing, and the joy I get from matching wits with friends over a board game and some beers is really unmatched these days.

And I may be looking on craigslist for a radio. The only one I have is in my car!

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David Cain November 10, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Same here… both are completely embedded in my life now, and I will make sure they always are.

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Sharon Hanna November 10, 2019 at 9:45 am

David – where did you get the radio for your mom? I listen on my computer which is….well, I’m much more likely to check emails etc. when it is ‘on’. Please advise.

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David Cain November 10, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Hi Sharon. We got it from Amazon. I linked to the one we got in that part of the article. I can definitely vouch for it.

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Mary Beth Green November 10, 2019 at 12:40 pm

Thanks for the reminders, David. I already do some of them, such as listening to the radio—I have several around the house. Using a cookbook is a good suggestion. I have at least a dozen and they serve me much better than a cooking website. I still pay some bills with checks. Sometimes I can’t bear the idea of creating another password.

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Gunhild November 10, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Is this really all old school? We do all of them. Apart from writing a blog. I like to write in a notebook or in a document on the computer. I’m only in early 30’s as well.

Regarding repairing stuff: I think that part is trending quite a lot! (We also sort our trash in 5 categories not including bulky refuse.)

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Dayne Rathbone November 10, 2019 at 7:15 pm

Fantastic article, David! Can I suggest one more old school think to consider: letter writing! My brother and I have built a platform for doing just that: https://letter.wiki/about

Social media has been built for short form broadcasting; we’ve designed letter to be a place for long form dialogue. https://areomagazine.com/2019/10/22/the-humane-art-why-we-should-all-read-and-write-letters/

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Andy November 10, 2019 at 7:28 pm

If you like fixing so much that everything in your place works and your clothes have no loose seams or holes, look in your area for a Repair Cafe to spread your abilities around. Further to your list, try vegetable gardening if you have the land, or even grow a few herbs on a window sill. And then find a pencil and sketch the flowers. Both of these also slow you down and reward close observation.

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Deanna November 10, 2019 at 11:18 pm

Thanks for this. We’ve been working so hard on this. After 10 years raising my kids, I’m back working full time and life is just so busy. My husband and I have been trying to be deliberate with our time … keep the tv off, have dinner (at least a few nights a week) as a family, play board games, and limit computer time. I was at Target today looking for a new board game. One looked fun, but required an app so I immediately put it back. That’s what I’m trying to get away from! Lol. Love all your posts and am happy to have them more frequently.

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Letty Maddox November 11, 2019 at 2:51 pm

I see this already happening with calendars and journals. Paper calendars, especially the last couple of years, have become a huge market — and as a person with “executive function issues,” that makes me very happy. Also, both me and my close friends usually buy both the e-book *and* paper/hardcopy of books we know we want to read cover-to-cover.

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Dave November 11, 2019 at 5:52 pm

I have rediscovered acorn tanks. Probably doesn’t apply to technology, but hanging out at the bus stop and being entertained by a good old-fashioned acorn tank battle on a tree stump is the way true entertainment should be delivered ;).

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Kate Lawrence November 12, 2019 at 6:58 am

Taking a pottery course & making vases & vessels that I know I could buy cheaper, however the class banter, cups of tea & biscuits makes my creations priceless.

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Michael November 12, 2019 at 8:58 am

It’s a bit of a disappointment that fixing something yourself has become “old school”…but you definitely bring up a good point about our throw-away society. I’ve really spent a lot of time honing my DIY home/auto/sewing skills this year, & have been trying to set that example for my young children. Keeping a car running, fixing a broken appliance or hemming some pants has become very ingrained I. My day-to-day.

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Mimi Cramer November 12, 2019 at 9:24 am

David, I enjoy your blogs so much. Sort of seems like you write what I need to hear at the time. I’m old enough to remember talking to my friends for hours (on a rotary phone) Board games were the norm at sleep-overs. There’s nothing better than to curl up with an actual book on the sofa and a cup of tea. The platforms of communications now seem banal and appear to hurt as much as much or more than entertain. Keep writing. You do it so well.

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David Cain November 12, 2019 at 10:58 am

Thanks Mimi. Talking on the phone is an interesting one, because there’s nothing about modern phones that makes it difficult to call another person, yet it’s become more rare. The change is cultural I guess. With texting, we can deliver vital information without exchanging voices, so it seems like it’s more of an imposition to call someone. But the act itself is relatively unchanged. There are a few people I have regular phone calls with, and I appreciate them very much.

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Kaila November 12, 2019 at 1:21 pm

I’m a millennial, and my entire friend group vehemently proclaims their intense dislike for talking on the phone.

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Sarah November 13, 2019 at 10:41 am

Taking up crafts and age old skills like knitting and sewing, wood working, metal smithing, etc. is a good way to reconnect with oneself and develop a skill. Making art is also very good for the soul as is volunteering or reading to children or the elderly.
Letter writing is also a joy with a good pen as it brings the recipient such pleasure not to find only bills in the mail.

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Allison November 15, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Any other actual BOOK readers out there? Not e-books, paper books, you know, like from the library? That’s just one of my old school habits, reading on a kindle or whatever device, feels too much like being at work and it is not enjoyable, real paper, the weight of a book in my hands, the visible progress thru the chapters, old school enjoyment at its finest :)

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John November 17, 2019 at 10:48 am

Reading an actual book can be a supreme pleasure. Even the colour of the paper and the kind of font make the reading more fun sometimes.

Playing an instrument – getting at the pressure and tension and the weight of playing it, and wrestling with learning – is one of these things for me too. Also, I’ve found that there’s a huge difference between finding a tutorial of a musical piece online and sitting down with a recording of it, trying to work it out by listening and trying and listening again.

Painting and drawing also reveal necessary variations in pressure and patience and timing and organization and repetition, like cooking and music can. All kinds of coordination are found here.
I agree with the cookbook stuff – I don’t make nearly as many meals as I could, and it’s almost always healthier and always more enjoyable to make those things myself instead of buying them ready-made. Even washing dishes by hand can contribute to the experience.
Watching a show with my son can be great, but fiddling with the intricacies of a Meccano set, whether it’s going smoothly or not, takes a lot of well-spent time and is highly rewarding.
I realize at the end of my comment that there’s struggle in most of these hands-on activities – that’s part of the reality and the fun of them.
Thanks for the post!

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JoDi November 17, 2019 at 1:29 pm

Just found your blog today, and I’m enjoying reading your posts! I am glad you are returning to the old-school free-form style of blogging. I’ve missed that type of blogging, but I feel there is hope, and things are coming full-circle because I’m seeing other bloggers who started spending more of their time on social media coming back to old-school blogging.

I have personally returned to a paper planner and desk pad calendar at work after using electronic scheduling apps for several years. There is something about seeing a week or a month spread out before you that scrolling through an app just can’t replicate. I also like having that record as a hard copy. It’s a journal of sorts, and I have referred to past years’ events often. I thought it would be easier to have a Google calendar because it would be searchable, but then you find out it only searches back so far. There are machinations you can go through to make older events searchable, but why? You can just flip through a paper planner so easily!

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Ann-Kristin Benzinger Åklint November 19, 2019 at 7:17 am

My first choice for waking up on a workday is still an old-fashioned alarm clock with face and hands.

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Vanessa November 25, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Yes! All of the above! I’ve always been an early adopter and love tech and the way it can improve life, but I’ve found that it’s now having a noticeable negative impact on me. Activities that use my *actual* body are much more peaceful and fun.

I have a radio and love the pure ‘what’s on is what you get’ factor of it. We have some terrific community radio stations here, too: really smart people presenting amazing shows.

Being a tech-lover, though, ha, I’ve been pondering an extra, tech-based solution: now that smart watches are so good, I’m thinking of ditching my phone and getting one. They have all the practical functions, but the tiny screen means endless social and app usage is unappealing. I can’t not have a phone at all, but maybe this is going ‘phone-light’. It would remove the temptation…

Plus: Dick Tracy. :)

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