Monday, February 26, 2007

Turning back the clock saves time

Here's to Christina Wall, the 32-year-old University of Michigan graduate student who is learning about the past by abandoning today's technology for that of 1949.

I was seven at the time and have vague recollections of the world that Wall has been sampling.

Like most families—and Christina—we didn't have a TV. I spent a lot of time outdoors in our northern Illinois town. Kicking tawny leaves in on crisp autumn days, trekking through knee-deep snow, getting soaked in spring's slush, playing pick-up on languid July days, and, in September, nimbly traipsing to school along the rail ties of the little-used trunk line behind our house.

No one told us to stay inside for our safety. The world wasn't seen as dangerous—except for the Communists, whom we had either "contained" or "exposed."

Reading Sunday's article about Wall, I was taken with, but not surprised by, one of her findings. Life without a TV, cell phone and computer has given her more time. "It's amazing. I literally feel like I have 40 hours in a day," she tells the reporter.

Forty hours may be a bit much, but try 30. By not being sucked into "screen time," she has regained six to eight hours each day. That works out to between three and four months each year.

You don't have to go retro to have the same feeling. I picked up at least three hours a day when I lowered my cable service to "basic" a couple of years ago. (I also saved about $30 a month.)

(A confession: The Red Electric doesn't exactly write itself each day; but I consider it time well spent. Kind of like kicking words instead of leaves.)

And then there is the liberating, even transforming, feeling you get by participating in TV Turn-off Week, which is coming up April 23 to 29.

One other part of Wall's experience (oddly enough chronicled on her web site) drew my attention. She's using a typewriter, but not just any typewriter. The photograph shows her with an Olivetti Lettera 32. She probably doesn't know it, but it was one of the best in its day. The only problem is that "its day" started in 1964, the year Olivetti introduced it. That's 15 years after Wall's targeted time. Still, the Lettera 32 is a great choice. I have a typewriter collection, and the Lettera 32 is among my favorites (see photo).

Oh, and that phone she is shown using is a Western Electric 500, which started production in 1954. In 1949, she likely would have been using a solid Western Electric 302, called a "Lucy" because of its prominent role on "I Love Lucy."

I have one of those too (seen here). It's mostly for old time's sake...and to listen to the dialer mechanically and methodically ratchet through the numbers.

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