In the late 90s I wrote a regular feature column for an inflight magazine (the airline itself now obsolete, swallowed in a mega-merger) called Hi Tech/Lo Tech. I loved researching and writing that 400-word column — a playground for indulging my fascination with how we talk about technologies old and new. Writing that column attuned me to the stubborn survival of lo-tech instruments and objects in our increasingly digitalized world. Though maybe stubborn isn’t the right word. It’s more Darwinian. These objects survive because they happen to work. The myth of technological progress is that new erases old, but open your kitchen cabinet or office desk drawer and chances are you’ll find many useful tools that can never be improved on. Think of the knife, as primitive a tool as they come.
So I was charmed to find this list by NY Times tech critic Brian X. Chen celebrating the co-existence of hi and lo tech in everyday life. I’m not sure if I agree with all his choices (is writing or printing out an online recipe better than reading it off the screen?), but I appreciate that practical considerations, rather than nostalgia, guide his assessment. That’s how all technologies should be judged, new or old — by how well they work.
So long live the kitchen timer!