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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?

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Photo by Eric Nopanen

{ 89 Comments }

Wendy November 7, 2019 at 2:26 am

I couldn’t agree more. A well thumbed cook book, a board game, a simple radio, and rolling my sleeves up to fix something are all simple pleasures worth enjoying. We have a local repair cafe where experts offer free services to fix and show people how to fix their broken things. Engineers, computer experts, dressmakers, carpenters all give their time in return for a donation to the repair cafe fund. There’s a group of board game players in a nearby pub. It’s happening. You are not alone.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:44 am

Wow, I love the idea of a repair cafe. Repairing something also creates the additional benefit of seeing that machines have logical ways in which they work, and we can understand them. They’re not just mysterious magical devices whose secrets can only be known by their manufacturers.

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Pebbles November 7, 2019 at 2:35 am

Wow! I still do all these things, and so do my family. I’m late to the party though, for the smartphone, so all these app thingy”s are quite a new concept for me. I still do many things the conventional way as I find the practices quite hypnotic and restful. ☺

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:45 am

Sometimes its an advantage to be late to the party. In fact, maybe that’s a good policy when it comes to technology in general.

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Christina Howell November 7, 2019 at 2:38 am

Yes! I was just talking to a good friend this morning about how I missed the days when you had to leave your home and go on a quest to find an album. The instant gratification of searching for a song on Spotify is amazing but it doesn’t have that magical feel of finding an album that you’d been searching for for weeks, getting home and poring over the album art and the sleeve while you listened to every damn song on the album for the full experience.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:47 am

I definitely feel that one. Liner notes and the album art added so much to the mysterious experience of hearing new sounds. I looked at every detail.

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TAMI ELLIS November 7, 2019 at 2:42 am

David, as usual, this post is so on target. One of my favorite old-school activities is writing letters; some to friends and family who live far away, and some to friends and family who live close-by, but to whom I might not be as real, transparent, and vulnerable face to face as I can be in a letter. Thank you for your always-insightful posts!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:49 am

I’m lucky to have several friends who still send postcards. They’re such a simple thing — a stock picture and a sentence or two saying “Thinking about you from the other side of the world! Even the postmark and wavy lines add something you could never get from an email.

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Richard November 7, 2019 at 2:49 am

I have been acquiring, repairing and listening to turntables. Vinyl is such a better medium for music.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:53 am

I do not have a vinyl setup, but I wish I did. It requires you to put on the music consciously, because records and their sleeves are delicate, and you have to drop the needle carefully. It doesn’t allow you to skip around willy nilly or ignore the album’s more humble tracks. Turntables enforce a kind of old school consciousness in your music-listening.

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Christina November 7, 2019 at 11:05 am

Yes. I remember visiting a friend years ago. It was late at night. We had just returned from seeing a great local band and were on a high from that. Drinking tea late at night, trying to calm down a little, he said he had the perfect song. He pulled out the record and played the song. It was a beautiful end to the evening. There are many things I have forgotten in life, but I hope I never forget that. And yes to cookbooks too. I have been searching used stores and finally have the complete Thug Kitchen collection. They bring a lot of joy to my kitchen.

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Vilx- November 7, 2019 at 3:01 am

I don’t quite share your views. I think it’s more your nostalgia that’s talking here. But then again – who can predict the future? I certainly can’t. Still, here’s what I think:

1. Cookbook – I don’t think the paper cookbooks will ever be as popular again. But there is still room for improvement in the digital format, as you’ve noticed. I think that eventually we will get there – there will be webpages that can prevent your device from sleeping, and the recipe will be squished in one view. Possibly with voice commands to navigate, so you don’t need to use hands at all – that’s even more convenient than paper.

2. More of a psychology issue. Today we’re swamped under too much information and choice, and it’s not just radio. But I think we will adapt especially younger audiences who grow up with this. They’ll gain the ability to focus one one thing and ignore all the other offerings coming in from all sides. They’ll lose the “fear of missing out” because with all the choices and options, it’s impossible not to miss out. So don’t worry about it, pick one option and enjoy it.

3. Fixable things. This one’s tricky. On one hand, I think that global environmental movements will eventually push towards more repairable things. Or, the manufacturing could meet recycling halfway and the environmental issues could be solved that way. Hard to predict which way it will go. Also – it’s not just the big corporations that are to blame. The buyers also often want cheaper things, and making things repairable does raise the price significantly. Take a look at Project Ara for one such great idea which failed when faced with market realities. (Then again, Fairphone still seems to be around, so maybe the concept can survive, even if just in a niche) But the thing I currently don’t see anywhere is a strong sentiment towards repairable things. Most people seem to be quite content to throw out broken things and buy new replacements. As long as that doesn’t change, repairability will be a niche thing, no matter how nice it is.

4. This is a very interesting and knotted problem. Today’s private infosphere is very centralized. You have just a few outlets – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Youtube, and maybe a few others. There is a also a dark side and backlash (to them) because of this. Then there are organizations that are trying to create “decentralized social networks” – so far with limited success. And at the same time there is also a very real demand to fix the “fake news” problem which cannot be done in a completely free and decentralized environment. I really have no idea how this will change in the future, but I’m very interested.

5. Yeah, this one is nice. And, you know what? I think it’s _because_ of the modern technology that this is happening, not in spite of it. Two reasons: First, with all the social networks it’s become easier than ever to find like minded people and organize get-togethers. Second, the modern videogame development has lead to a lot of deeper understanding of how people play and how to make games that they like. These lessons are based in human behavior and psychology and are often applicable not only to videogames, but to tabletop games as well. As a result, we’re seeing a lot of great new games coming out – both digital and board. Check out the “Extra Credits” Youtube channel for more interesting information about game development philosophy and principles.

In other words, I don’t think we’ll ever get even close to where we were, and the old things will stay as just niche products. We won’t “return to the good old ways”. But we will continue to adapt and improve the new ways to create even newer and better ways. And, yes, maybe sometimes it will result in resurgence in an old idea or two. :)

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:06 am

Vilx, you’ve been reading this blog for many years and I value your input very much. But I don’t think you’ve ever quite shared my views :)

I think a lot of the old ways will never be popular again, because the mass market follows the new and flashy. But many people will still recognize a sturdy, solid, non-electronic means of doing something as being superior in many ways.

I agree that the radio thing is a psychology issue, but that’s where the value is in anything — in our mental and emotional experience of what we’re doing. Analog controls that resist too much mental jumping around give us a more fulfilling and grounding experience, especially when we’re overwhelmed with options.

Board games have certainly benefited from improved game design, and peripheral technologies like Kickstarter and that sort of thing. But technology level isn’t the point — the end product is still something you put on a table and convene around face to face, and that experience has become more rare because of the way the world has become more electronically connected. That offline, interpersonal experience is where the value is, and if we can use technology to bring us together like that, I can’t think of a better use for it.

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Vilx- November 7, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Wow, you’ve noticed me!

To be honest, I only post when I have something I disagree about. I think there are enough “yay, me too!” comments here as it is. You’ll also notice I post rarely. :)

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Madeleine Herring November 7, 2019 at 3:25 am

David when I usually read your pieces, I sit and think, yep, that could and should be incorporated into my life – you challenge me to live better. This is the first blog where I can say – yes! Me and my family do all these things. In the car we argue over whose radio station we will listen to (there are 3 in current rotation, and only 4 of us). Not quite an old fashioned radio – but the idea of un-self-selected music, and also a feeling of community contact. I write thank-you letters (and post them); and we refused to put all our vinyl on something compact and digital – we had to build a cupboard to house our 35-year-old amp, tape deck, turntable and speakers. (It´s still louder than we need). I sew to repair. I have shoes mended in the dusty shoe repair shop in our street. And the bespoke cupboard needed to house the board games. We love them! We come from a family of card game players too – so teaching our kids card games is wonderful – especially when they get good enough to beat you. We dont have Netflix; we go out to see bands in tiny clubs where we get to meet the musicians afterwards. And we read; real books. In essence, I couldnt agree with you more.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:14 am

Wonderful. You are making the world a better place! I’m really curious how we will look back on our current era… will it be viewed as a temporary period in which we went too far with our electronic delivery systems, before seeing the light and coming back to the concrete, the stable, the reliable? I hope so.

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Joy November 7, 2019 at 5:15 am

I love this. Some of the best days I’ve had lately have been those when the internet connection was down for whatever reason. People think I’m crazy because I repair clothes instead of throwing them out. I also tailor them to fit me properly – it’s amazing how much well-fitting clothes elevate a person’s appearance. Also, having to touch the recipe to stop it from disappearing drives me nuts!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:17 am

I feel lucky to know a number of people who mend and even make their own clothes. So many perfectly good items have been saved.

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Patricia November 7, 2019 at 5:18 am

David 4 out of the 5 practises you write have never left my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way . As a Canadian hearing our language and pronunciation become Americanised ( no offence intended just what happens when living so close to The Giant ) returning to the ‘ old school ‘ way of pronouncing Mom as mum rather than the rounded American sound of Mawm and remembering that our waste is garbage not Trash as in the Apple computer sort. Language is one of the markers of culture in a society ,
though I know it evolves , which is important enough to be conscious of its’ usage and from whence it hales.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:20 am

I appreciate your taking a stand there. I have noticed my speech become Americanized, and my writing too. I no longer put a “u” in colour, because most of my audience is American and would find it weird. And I hate to admit this but I even started pronouncing “process” as PRAW-cess, rather than PRO-cess, because an American made fun of me once. You’ve inspired me to reclaim that little bit of territory.

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Jennifer November 7, 2019 at 5:20 am

I love this list.

Our family has had a monthly game night for years. It’s well attended.

My husband is the youngest of 7 siblings so our family gatherings can easily 15 or more people.

Board or card games are the staple. Interestingly enough, it’s the 25 and under group who push so hard to make sure it happens. The ones still in school always make sure to tell us that none of their friends’ families do this. They often bring friends thus making our already large group even larger.

We also have “Family Dinner” every couple of months.

All phones and smart watches are left at the front door in a basket. It’s STRICT. They can retrieve them when they leave. We play no games at “Family Dinner”. We only talk. We have conversation starter cards to keep everyone talking.

This is also a favorite of the young people.

I too miss my cookbooks and for all the exact reasons you mentioned. Thanks for reminding me to pull them out again.

Thank you for your blog.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:24 am

These comments are warming my heart! I especially appreciate the image of younger people pushing for the board games. It sounds naive, but I hope that the 21st-century triumph of board games can inspire more movements of lower-tech products.

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Christiane November 7, 2019 at 5:20 am

Since, in my experience, whenever I most need a map, e.g. when I get a little disoriented while hiking somewhere out in the woods, I’ll find that my phone gets no or very poor reception, or the battery just died, or something, so that apps are useless, I’ve started to carry actual, physical maps or guides around again.
Also, I’ve never stopped preferring real books over e-books/readers. Though I have to admit I curse myself for that whenever it’s time to move… ;)
And I too enjoy board and card games, and fixing things. Gives me a lovely sense of accomplishment mingled with defiance. :)

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:27 am

Maps are another object where you instantly see how much better the offline version is. No awkward pinch-zooming, and you don’t have to find where you are and where you’re going in a tiny little window. A real map is a beautifully simple thing.

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Cynthia Quiñones November 7, 2019 at 5:26 am

Hi David,

Thanks for the thoughtful ideas! Two more on my list include: 1. Watching our recorded movies on VHS; 2. Shopping in a real toy store.

For me, both of these involve having kids…we like to make pizza and watch a movie together on Friday nights, and we love when the movie is on one of our old VHS tapes because then we see the snippets of old commercials in between segments of the show. My four-year-old especially loves the old holiday toy commercials.. We enjoy some tech in our lives (my husband and I have iPhones, for example), but we don’t have a lot of money, so though some people have long ago upgraded their tech, in many ways, we just haven’t, and it’s been fine for us.

Regarding the toy store shopping, it’s getting harder to do all the time, but we try to support the businesses in our town whenever we buy presents.
The joy of it reminds me of how, when you’re writing, it’s so much nicer to look up a word in a real dictionary or thesaurus instead of using the Merriam Webster app. You have the great pleasure of seeing all of the words that are not the one you thought you were looking for. It’s a mind-expanding process of discovery, not an immediate fix. I think the online convenience is often great at giving us a pre-planned outcome, but so much of the enjoyment comes from the journey, the search, and that can be lost.

In high school, I remember having an old cassette tape that used to be my older brother’s. It was a live recording of a basement band performance of some of his friends, and on the recording, there was a part where the band took a break, and one guy with one guitar quietly performed a little tune. In high school, I was obsessed with that tune, but had no easy way of finding out it’s name or true author. I thought maybe that guy, whoever he was, wrote it himself, but it seemed like a cover. I walked around for years humming that song quietly to myself, and it was like a little secret between me and the universe. Eventually, one day, I heard the song in a cafe and was able to turn to the stranger next to me and say who is this, what is this, and he was able to tell me, and so the universe sort of stitched us together for a moment there. (It was You Can Close Your Eyes, by James Taylor). I think it is no harder than it used to be to have a secret with the universe, you just have to be patient and let it happen.

Thanks for your thoughts and writing.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:34 am

I love all of those things. I no longer have a VHS, but I do appreciate the self-contained nature of a video on a physical medium. I also like that you can’t easily jump around between movies without physically moving and doing something.

We have two great local toy stores in my city, and almost everything I get for my niece and nephews, I get there.

I also really appreciate your cassette story. Not to over-romanticize the past but there was also something nice about not immediately being able to look everything up. There was more mystery, and more opportunity for those moments like the one you had.

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Meg Wolfe November 7, 2019 at 5:30 am

This has been on my mind a lot in the past year or so, while getting used to living in a new house that is reminiscent of the one I lived in 15-20 years ago. An example would be suddenly missing reading a real newspaper while having breakfast by a window overlooking a back yard full of trees and birds and other critters. I’ve gotten so used to a writer’s productivity mode, up and at the desk in a tiny dark office by 5 am, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to take fuller advantage of living in a nice place again. Another one would be playing the piano, something I stopped doing during the years in the tiny house because it would disturb my spouse while he was trying to work. But I’m almost totally deaf now, and horribly out of practice, so I’m even afraid to try—I did once, and it made me miss the past so much I cried.

I guess the corollary to the important things you point out is Use it or Lose it. My resolution for 2020 is to lean into living here more fully, more tactile. One way I’ve already started is by creating my own cookbook of printed-out recipes, complete with my own hand-scrawled notes on the sides. Maybe I can get the family into card games, especially now that my granddaughter is going on six. I’ve noticed that my husband has been getting into fixing things more and more, and getting a real kick out of it. You’re right, the satisfaction of things like this can’t be beat.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:43 am

Meg! Nice to hear from you.

Tactility — yes, I think that is one of the central qualities I’m trying to get back to. So much of what we interact with today consists of data, which is so abstract and impossible to touch or feel. It’s alienating to the human mind in a way I don’t think we quite appreciate yet. It makes sense that manipulating physical things, and the physical feedback we get from it, would be something mammals feel kind of lost without.

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Mel November 7, 2019 at 5:38 am

Just last weekend I was playing a board game sitting around a table with my boyfriend and parents and enjoyed it so much. Lately I am so tired of sitting around and talking about the same things over and over because no one has any better ideas of how spending time together could alternatively look like. So it just felt so nice to be together and have the four brains synchronised on the same game without any need to do much talking. I also find it quite interesting how many individual rules for the same standard game are created by players with different backgrounds. ;-)

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 12:03 pm

Ooh what game??

I know that kind of conversational fatigue (for lack of a better term) you’re referring to here. I find that seeing someone just to “catch up” can make for a decent conversation, but often doesn’t especially if we’ve been keeping tabs on the broad strokes of people’s lives through social media. So often it degenerates into “watching any good shows lately?” Having an activity directs the action, relieving the burden on everyone.

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Mel November 8, 2019 at 10:04 am

It was actually just Rummikub. :-) But it’s easy enough to start playing without much preparation and makes you think enough to keep going. :-)
I like the term conversational fatigue! Yesterday my hair dresser said I made her day because she was so tired of talking about the bad weather all day with her clients that it was nice talking about different things for a change (what good are ducks for in the world, the boredom of having your day off when your friends are working,…).

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Rocky November 7, 2019 at 5:43 am

I have a 1960 VW Bug, 36 hp, manual everything.The majority of repairs are possible to do by yourself with a screwdriver and a wrench. When you turn the key on, two lights come on.
A red one and a green one… Oil and electrical. It doesn’t even have a gas gauge. That was an option in 1960.
In addition to being enormously expensive, the over abundance of technology in modern cars is separating us from the driving experience. As you point out David, something is gained, but something is definitely lost.
Many thanks for another great post!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 12:05 pm

No gas gauge! Hard to imagine. Your comment made me think of a book you might like: Shop Class As Soulcraft. It’s written by an academic-turned-motorcycle mechanic who appreciates, on an almost spiritual level, working on older machines that have no computers in them.

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Carolyn November 7, 2019 at 6:14 am

My Blog is a history of what I’ve read; one a month for something like fourteen years now, with very few bells and whistles.

What I would add to your list is singing in choirs. There’s absolutely no substitute for being physically and mentally present; you know something important about the faithfulness of your fellows, and you make something greater and more beautiful than any of you could alone. That it joins a tradition that has been going on for decades or centuries is icing on the cake. I’m always so happy to hear that children are being brought up to know how to do this.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 2:11 pm

There’s a definite theme in the activities that have come up here: they keep you present. App-centered activites are the opposite — you can duck into them and out of them in a second, and I think our engagement level suffers for it.

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Angie unduplicated November 7, 2019 at 6:24 am

For saving recipes offline, an app called Print Friendly works with Adobe Acrobat to turn your online recipes into ad-free PDFs. An old computer or tablet in the kitchen will save counter space-a necessity for people with small apartments.

For this reason, I’ve digitized my music and book collection, but I definitely miss liner notes and the richer sound quality of physical records. Why, oh why, can’t we have a metadata file with the original liner notes?

Please, everyone, research Right to Repair laws, then call or write your legislative representatives and insist on one for your state or province.
Microsoft Surfaces cannot be opened and Apple will not provide aftermarket parts for their devices unless you send them the machine. On “legacy” devices, they charge $150 just to receive the device.
John Deere has even jailed farmers for repairing their own tractors!

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Cathie November 7, 2019 at 7:05 am

David, I enjoy all your posts! About 4 years ago I installed clotheslines in my backyard. I live on a lake where there’s always a good breeze. I always dry my sheets and bedding outdoors and the sight of them billowing in the wind is so beautiful! I even stopped to take a picture, with my Iphone, LOL! The fresh smell of the bed when I get into it at night is so amazing and restful. No dryer sheet does that!

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Brian C November 7, 2019 at 7:28 am

How about writing letters? I used to enjoy sitting down and writing letters (with a fountain pen!) to friends and family, putting them in the mail, and waiting for the reply. Even more exciting to get their letters in my mailbox, make some tea and sit down to enjoy reading them, usually two or three times. Email? Texting? Feh.

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Debi Croy November 7, 2019 at 7:32 am

I too am headed backwards in technology time. I’ve frequently thought of it over the last two years and this year I took action. I deleted FB, the only social media account remaining. When my iPhone 6S plus dies, I’m going back to a simple phone/ text mode. I hike more, read more, and visit with friends more.

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Sonia Chauhan November 7, 2019 at 7:44 am

The one post I want to genuinely like does not contain a like button. Confounding. :)

Its even more confounding that my first reaction was what brilliant ideas you suggest! This is normal stuff that we did as part of growing up, and it feels weird how far away we have drifted from the simple pleasures of life. Yes, getting all gratification from simply staring at screens is losing its charm but not fast enough.

As for me, still an old soul who listens to the radio as she get through the week’s ironing.

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Sonya November 7, 2019 at 7:51 am

Board games! I love boardgames. And we always played them with our kids. My son is 21 and he will take our board games and play with his friends. It makes me happy that that happens because were in this age of video games and all the other things. But they still play boardgames! It’s awesome!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 2:19 pm

This makes me happy too :)

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Doug Redifer November 7, 2019 at 7:52 am

Agree…I will be 70 in a few months and reflect on the past v. technology today. I have to ask myself why I have two computers (one for work); two laptops; cellphone that does everything and a 55″ Smart TV. In reducing stress, I stopped watching TV programming with advertising aimed at an 11 year old mentality; most news programs that try to create panic & take time to relax from work (not into the retirement culture) with reading books (and, yes, I have several cookbooks!); having coffee every morning at 5 am with my 15 year old Siamese cat on my lap and generally think of ways to improve the quality of life. Thank you for your reflections..
Doug Redifer

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Dana November 7, 2019 at 7:56 am

I kept all my old albums and have a turntable near my kitchen. When I am cooking (sometimes from a cookbook), I put one on. I also love the radio. And the simple mindful task, once in awhile, of ironing. And reading real books.

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Shohna November 7, 2019 at 8:01 am

Hi, David, as per uszh, I really loved this post (as I have been loving all your posts lately). I participated with you in the 30-day “make my phone a tool”/doing things circa 2005 experiment and loved it. Now the only remaining social media on my phone is youtube, which – while being entertaining – is not nearly the mind-numbing time drain that I’ve found other social media sites to be on my phone.
I resonate sincerely with each of your five points in this post, 4 out of 5 of which I’ve never stopped doing (as I see a lot of people commenting on here have not either). Right about the time I started participating in the phone-as-a-tool experiment, I began to realize that life right about circa 2005 is exactly the sweet spot for me, one I don’t think will come again soon, certainly not for children being raised on their parents’ iPhones and iPads. When the internet, and cell phones, were still novel, what I would call the Wild-Wild-West nature of the internet made it fascinating and truly engaging. During that time I mainly engaged as a blogger with other bloggers, and watched youtube videos – random, esoteric, truly an unfiltered glimpse into other people’s lives. I’ve never really lost that sense I had of wonder, as a 13-year-old, learning to engage with the world through the medium of the internet. Now it’s so passe as to be about as exciting as a functioning washing machine.
I agree that doing things manually is making a resurgence, in my own life mainly because I never really did want to ride the tidal wave of technology circa 2009+ in the first place.

One of the fun old-school things, for me, is going grocery shopping. As pedantic as it may sound, going in person is somehow generally a better experience than having something delivered to your door. (I restrict this to groceries, for some reason. Other household items being able to be shipped straight to me is a godsend.) Capitalism, and technology, are *amazing*, so being able to have the options available is such a privilege, but still, shopping for my own groceries in person is a kind of grounding experience for me.

Tl;dr: grocery shopping is one of my “old school” things that I enjoy. Thanks for this post.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 2:23 pm

There does seem to be a sweet spot, although for me I think it’s in different years for different things.

I didn’t know grocery shopping was old school! I suppose it’s by area — here there are grocery deliver services but I don’t know anyone who uses them. I love going to the grocery store. I actually prefer an even older version — the neighborhood outdoor farmer’s market, where you walk down in the afternoon to get things for dinner.

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Meg Wolfe November 8, 2019 at 8:29 am

The local farmer’s market here is very expensive and simply not very good, so I gave up on it long ago. And the grocery stores—ugh! It isn’t just me, anybody who cares about quality fruits and vegetables in my area feels the same way. The online delivery service I use has been pretty reliable. Back in the day, there were baggers who loaded your groceries into your car. It was the norm. The online delivery guys bring it all right to my kitchen counter, an almost priceless service, so in a sense it is even more old-school, harking back to the days when the milkman and iceman and others had home delivery routes!

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Lizzie Hough November 7, 2019 at 8:05 am

Whole heartedly agree. The cookbook thing is quite real for me. There is something innately satisfying and comforting when using an old recipe, scribbled on a piece of scrap paper, complete with doodles and grocery list, or a recipe from a book with a personal note added in by my deceased Mom, or the textural reward from handling that one small recipe book, picked up in the grocery store line in 1977, now taped together and spotted with cocoa on the page that reads “The Best Brownies” (and I have plenty of testimonies to the truth of that title). I still listen to the radio, play board games with family and friends, and take pleasure in repairing and renewing everything from clothing to toasters (and who doesn’t miss shade tree mechanics over having to take a vehicle in to be “read” on a computer before it can be repaired? ) Thank you for this article as a kindred spirit.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 2:24 pm

I love all those telltale stains on recipe cards. They hint at the history behind the recipe.

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K MacGregor November 7, 2019 at 8:09 am

Ah, Michael Enright’s voice, the sound of my Sunday mornings. :) I also like about radio that I end up listening to things that I would not have chosen on my own had I been selecting them, so I learn more about things I never knew I never knew.

I hear D&D is also seeing a revival, along with board games. I loved D&D in my teens and twenties and have been missing it lately as all my D&D-playing friends moved away. I think D&D takes the social board game concept a step further for a really interactive and cooperative experience.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 2:27 pm

I can tell you first hand that D&D is more than alive and well. After a long hiatus it’s now a regular part of my life. I even play with a teacher who runs groups with his students. I love that it has transcended the “nerd barrier” by becoming mainstream. There are a lot more girls and women who play it now too. It is a unique kind of social experience, and I think a very healthy one.

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thornhill Karyn November 7, 2019 at 8:12 am

Actually reading Real Books, Magazines and Newspapers!! A few ago I became dependent on my IPad and my phone for all of my reading and I truly realized something valuable and tangible was missing from my life. I Love the feel of paper in my hands and turning the page of a loved book. Now I am surrounded by books, books and more books plus magazines galore! A little bit of heaven on earth! Thanks David for your ongoing spot on insights. I love your work!!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Thanks Karyn. I’m so happy the book continues to survive… I remember experts in the 90s predicting we’d be paperless by 2020.

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Bill Marin November 7, 2019 at 8:27 am

I have a small wood-burning stove. Firewood needs to be cut in smaller pieces in order to fit. Instead of ripping a chain saw through the wood and the quiet of the mountain air, I use an 60 year-old bow saw, left to me by my father. Slower, to be sure. But far more satisfying and connective to my life. I feel the wood’s texture and feel gratitude for its gift. As Thoreau says, I warm myself twice.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 3:56 pm

Wonderful. I think there’s something vital to our well-being about using our bodies well. Simple tools are satisfying to use. I miss the straightforward stake-hammering part of my old surveying job. Imagine what Thoreau would say about chainsaws, let alone smartphones!

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Alan Richbourg November 7, 2019 at 8:32 am

Long live boardgames, right on! I’ve been dedicated to building groups for old-school boardgames, since, er, the old-school days. It’s great to see it finally really catching on.

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Susan Ward November 7, 2019 at 9:28 am

Hi David,
Thanks for this. Since sometime last year I’ve been – cooking from cook books (set myself a challenge and it’s still going), doing old school things (baking my own bread using two hands), playing board games (Thanksgiving was so much fun!), writing my own blog – just one little entry a day with no monetization (standingstillslowly@blogspot), fixing things sometimes (I actually fixed my toaster – not any electrical parts though.) It does make life at home far more interesting. Kind of getting off the speeding tracks of the internet.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:11 pm

Hi Susan. Sounds like you’ve got a lot of good things going on. Were these conscious choices or did you gravitate naturally towards them?

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Catrina November 7, 2019 at 11:49 am

Yes to this! Reading books on paper, tracking my spending and journal with old-fashioned pencil and paper. It’s so soothing.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:11 pm

I am back to using wooden pencils and very happy about it

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JoLynn November 7, 2019 at 11:50 am

Two Comments:
1. Jigsaw puzzles! A group can collaborate while socializing. You can take a break for snacking or whatever while observing the progress. My small-town library has started a Puzzle Table, where a large puzzle is always underway and anyone can take a few minutes or hours to work on it.
2. I am a skilled seamstress. I am appalled at the poor quality of retail clothing, and how quickly it is discarded when it becomes damaged. I volunteer at a public access sewing lab, where I facilitate sewers of all ages and skill levels to make/fix it themselves, with coaching from a volunteer expert. I also take in sewing for profit, but (not surprisingly, really) I enjoy the public shop far more than making a few bucks.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:08 pm

Love the idea of a puzzle table. A close friend of mine does a lot of jigsaw puzzles. I’m not so good at them but I will come over and put together a dozen pieces or so and we have tea and talk. It’s great.

Retail clothing is terrible! I greatly appreciate my textile-skilled friends.

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BKD November 7, 2019 at 1:46 pm

I’m afraid I can’t whole-heartedly agree. I’m curious to know your thoughts on young people who don’t have the experience (beyond what’s foisted on them by nostalgic parents) of the pre-digital age? My kids play board games, but the also socialize with peers through video games. They maintain relationships with friends and family through video calls. Their experience is that the exchange between far away people that includes photos and videos is much richer than a “wish you were here” postcard. My kids have parents who utilize the library, but frown on purchasing and accumulating reading material because of the clutter and wasteful aspect of it- and we all gain information digitally too. My kids don’t have the experiences you list, so haw can they long for the halcyon “old school” days?

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:07 pm

I suppose any discussion of what is and is not old school depends a lot on a person’s age. Presumably, today’s kids, ten or twenty years from now will look back to certain elements of today’s culture and technology and miss it too. The pattern is that things are always changing, and when things change, certain elements are lost, and some of them are worth trying to recapture.

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Amanda Ryan November 7, 2019 at 2:12 pm

This post totally resonates with me – all of them except fixing things because my husband fixes everything, I’m useless. But my 22 year old son just bought a 1994 Toyota pickup for the very reason that it’s fixable and long lasting.

I am so with you on the Cookbook one. The disappearing recipe has gotten much worse with iPhone X since you have to bend over and peer into it to try to activate face recognition to get the recipe back and that never works.

Lately I’ve been meeting friends for Trivia nights at the local brewery. They make us turn off our phones and the interactions are so real and fun. There are always a lot of board games at the craft breweries as well.

I just joined an old school discussion forum where members shares craft and soapmaking interests. It’s so awesome, just posts and replies on reliably searchable topics. I love it.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:05 pm

Ah discussion forums! They are definitely still around, but much less prominent. I spent a lot of time on them in my day. All the way back to USENET

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Adrienne November 7, 2019 at 2:16 pm

Thank you for this! My family has had a long tradition of playing board games together and we are now on the third generation, with my great niece & nephew.

As you noted, there are great games out there for all ages — Apples to Apples is one that has a kids version, we still play Trivial Pursuit (they have a Junior and separate Family edition) Taboo, Boggle, The Game Of Things Board Games and many others I cannot think of.

The other thing you brought up that does drive me crazy is the whole it is broken, so pitch it mentality. Unfortunately, I am not wired with the ability to fix things so I love what someone else wrote about the repair cafes! I will need to check into that.

Thanks for your posts, I always look forward to them!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:04 pm

Some games do bridge the all ages gap very well — Apples to Apples definitely. Trivial Pursuit is a bit tougher though… each version fits a certain age group really well and is a struggle for everyone else :)

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Bob November 7, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Always hated the idea of playung multplayer online games, it feels so cold. Back in the day we’d lug our pc to each others houses and play games. At least you could see or talk to your friends directly, and half the fun was the after playing banter and beer and pizza. All of that gone with modern online games… Boardgames are even better. Play 1 per month with good friends. Have played speed chess with a group of friends since we before we were teenagers, been playing for 20 years.

Other low tech activities we still love, reading real books and libraries, fixing things, cinemas rather than netflix. But we also like having cellphones, the internet, whatsapp and email. Twitter can probably go, might miss facebook, and instagram is nice. Uber is also useful. Skype is necessary, still awkward but thats cause you arent doing an activity. If only we could get people/family closer together when the distance is far.

Really enjoying the low tech articles, anything to reverse the awful smartphone coffee shop experience.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:02 pm

For me, multiplayer is in the same room or not at all. We used to rush home during our spare period in high school to play four-player split-screen Goldenye on the N64, which was incredibly fun.

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Doni Boyd November 7, 2019 at 3:14 pm

I love mailing a card or a letter – to say nothing of the joy of receiving one! I belong to a fabric post card group and they are so much fun to receive!

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Robyn Gibson November 7, 2019 at 4:33 pm

Hi David,

To quote an old advertising slogan, “The simple things in life are often the best.”

How refreshing that your blog is a collection of your thoughts (with the purpose of actually interacting with people!) with no links to something you are selling!

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 9:00 pm

Thanks Robyn. I do sell things however, otherwise this blog would not be viable. I just try not to be really annoying about it.

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malena November 7, 2019 at 5:46 pm

I was just talking to my boyfriend the other day about how I used to spend so much time on the internet when I was a teenager. Talking about it got me all nostalgic for that sense of discovery you got from surfing without always falling into perfectly designed “official” pages. I remember I used to read the 1000 awesome things blog and now that I see -in the Nightstand section- that Neil has a book out I’ll be sure to read it and see if it sparks some of that old feeling of wading through uncharted waters.
I also wanted to thank you for this renewed posting frequency, I love reading your posts old and new.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:58 pm

That feeling of discovery was so wonderful… 1000 Awesome Things was right out of that era. I think it still must be possible to explore the internet like that. StumbleUpon seemed like an important part, because it would launch you into some random corner of the internet. And thanks for reading all this time!

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KENNETH T LYONS November 7, 2019 at 5:58 pm

Preach, man. Listen to vinyl through the entire album, sides 1 and 2. Read an actual printed book, fiction maybe. Take a real bike ride. This peloton thing is getting out of control. Shovel your driveway. Make family recipes off the index card. Write a letter. Wear wool socks and feel the itch. That may be going too far.
Keep your soul.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:59 pm

Yes to all this

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Kelly Gurnett November 7, 2019 at 8:25 pm

I have to ask: What are your favorite board games, and what’s your D&D alignment?

For me, it’s: Betrayal at House on the Hill and chaotic good.

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David Cain November 7, 2019 at 8:57 pm

Hey Kelly! Neutral good usually and I don’t think I have a favorite game, because we play something different almost every time. I played Betrayal once and really liked it.

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Nat November 7, 2019 at 9:53 pm

Checking out my groceries with a cashier rather than a self checkout. There’s an element of hospitality that comes with being greeted at the cash register by a real person, perhaps making a bit of friendly small talk or even some bantering. Extra points to those who take good care in bagging my groceries and offer carryout to the car.

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David Cain November 8, 2019 at 8:42 am

Totally… I just had a mental image of seeing this comment from 1999, as though getting a glimpse of the future: “I’ve decided to no longer deal with the robot cashiers, and go back to the human ones.” We really are in the future, and it’s weird.

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Corina November 7, 2019 at 9:57 pm

This is such a great post. I think I have the same radio you bought for your mom and it’s wonderful (except I listen to Odario on mine ;)
I have a feeling everything I do is old school but I’ve never thought of it that way. Doing my taxes on the paper forms? Borrowing DVDs and books on CD from the library? Texting with one finger? Spending last night preparing all of my red geraniums for winter?
My partner is even better. A lot of his camping gear is from the 90’s and he won’t replace it because it’s still the best. He built an actual wannigan (a wooden kitchen box you carry with just a strap around your forehead). It is the best thing ever even though it weighs a ton. He loves teaching his old school skills to younger people. Some of them get it, and some are happy with their fancy new gadgets.

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David Cain November 8, 2019 at 8:46 am

I had to look up “wannigan” — wow!

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Trine November 8, 2019 at 4:44 am

You are spot on with this post! I have made it a rule in my life that I am not allowed to use my phone when there are other people in the room. That means no phone when I’m social, no phone while waiting in line at the store, no phone I’m waiting areas are the doctors office etc. it makes for some very interesting conversations with strangers, and even a few new friends. I’m 29 and cutting back on tech-time.

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Jonathan Allen November 8, 2019 at 6:26 am

Great post, we have my old hi-fi, record deck, CD player and amp, in a deep cupboard next to our old fireplace. We play records a lot, some are my late parent’s ones that i remember from childhood, others more recent, but not very. . . it does feel pleasingly like an act of rebellion somehow ;-)
A great thing to do if you have a largish lawn/patch of grass in your garden is to search out some old Bowls (dunno what you call them in the US, but I mean the bowling balls that are used on a lawn, whereby you have to land your bowl closest to the jack ball to win) from thrift shops or wherever and when friends come over have a round of bowls. Great fun, especially with a glass of wine in the other hand. Lots of banter and messing about arises naturally from the combination.
Otherwise, making any kind of art with your hands, or playing a musical instrument, ideally with others, is a great low tech activity. I love technology but want it to serve me rather then the other way around.

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Marna November 8, 2019 at 7:32 am

Getting real photographs printed and pasting them into a scrapbook (with dates and captions).

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David Cain November 8, 2019 at 8:39 am

The change in how we deal with photographs is something I think about a lot. It’s so easy to take them that we never bother getting prints, so we look at them less often and get less excited by them. Glad you are keeping the old way alive.

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Casey Cogburn November 8, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Well, I’ve read most (some) of the thread here – I want to get off my phone and sit outside for a bit of sunshine, and it won’t happen sitting here looking at all comments ;) ha!
I write letters which is classic. I choose the word classic here, it’s a nice word I give to all my non technologically ways.
Letters are my way of kindly reminiscing (do we ever write ugly thoughts :-0), of thinking of someone who might like to get something in their actual mailbox, practice my handwriting (ha!) and do my part to help the USPS stay solvent.
But, I don’t necessarily like to do it.
Whaaaaaa? It’s a discipline. Everyday to write at least one.
We can all benefit from discipline, right?
Anyway, I wanted you to know after reading your article I am going to go patch my comforter (the dogs have finally scratched a few holes in it) instead of making time in my day to order or find a new one.
Great encouragement. Thanks for being here.

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Michele Kendzie November 8, 2019 at 12:26 pm

1. I baked my son’s birthday cupcakes just two days ago, using a recipe from the Hershey’s cookbook.
2. I tried turning on my car radio a couple of months ago but it was just static and I couldn’t remember my old favorite station’s numbers. :P I’ve only been listening to podcasts for a couple of years, anyway, and I love them. I take them with me on my walks.
3. I would like to be better at fixing broken things. My husband is!
4. I didn’t know blogging was old school. LOL I actually turned off my blog early this year because I was neglecting it. I may do it again someday. And I do have a website. michelekendzie.com
5. My family plays games around the table with other people at least once a week!

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