In every direction, we see nostalgia for the good old days of analog -- when budding technologies were splendid in their simplicity and romantic in their rough-around-the-edges appeal. (At least, that’s the view from here. My pink plastic film camera was, in 1989, undoubtedly more decrepit than fabulous.)
Seemingly with no boundaries, we’re breathing new life into old charmers, from Polaroid and Lomography to turntables to rotary phones. Even hand-written letters have been experiencing a resurgence. In large part, it’s no wonder why we crave slow, tangible pleasures; an always-on digital life can be maddening. And if we allow ourselves to be fully caught up in that existence, impatience for everything to operate like clockwork can lead to burnout.
But that trend hasn’t kept on going and going and going just because we are sentimental creatures craving escapism from the world as it is. There has to be more to the story than just that.
From at least one angle, the most interesting part of returning to analog rituals is how they can reinvigorate our hectic business and creative routines, giving brief respites from chaos that help us put our hands back in the fire with fresh enthusiasm.
There’s no shortage of research supporting activities of this kind. Says NYU psychologist Joshua Aronson, keeping our minds nimble is crucial to keeping and growing mental capacities:
“A decade ago, we thought you got what you were given at birth and that was pretty much it. But now we know the number of brain cells can increase throughout your life through neurogenesis. There’s great evidence that shows if you really work on a skill, the part of the brain associated with that skill grows. The mind is like a muscle. If you don’t keep exercising it, it will atrophy.”
But science aside, people engage in restorative mental activities -- and keep on doing so -- because they work. Plan and simple. If they didn’t work, I doubt even the most patient among us would be choosing peaceful ashrams and monasteries as vacation destinations or engaging in daily meditation at home.
Of course, rituals work differently for each of us; it doesn’t matter how you slow down as long as the experience inspires you to get back in the game.
Lucky me, I recently came into possession of a 1937 Remington typewriter that creates just that kind of experience. When I tap-tap-tap on that thing, old facilitates new. You see, each of the keys is connected to a circuit that, with the help of a USB cord, feeds my typing into an electronic document on my computer. The typewriter physically slows my hands down, which slows my mind down, which helps me feel more satisfied with what I have so deliberately produced. It helps me focus on the task at hand, not least because I know I have a digital copy to go back to and edit whenever I want.
But slowing down doesn’t necessarily require tools.
A cliche though it may be, I go on walks to get ideas. It worked in college when I drew a blank about the paper I had to write for my German philosophy class. And it works today when I want to write something creative but feel like my mind needs room to spread out. So I leave the digitally charged air of my apartment and venture out. More often than not, I arrive home with something I’m dying to commit to paper.
They say we must “slow down to speed up.” And by finding our own ways of keeping the creative juices flowing, this modern life can be a sustainable thing.
What are your rituals for coping with and making the most of a fast-paced life?