A (Temporary) Anti-Tech Antidote

By Joshua Seidemann, Vice President of Policy, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

October 24, 2018

I had occasion this week to send a friend an acknowledgment. It was too long to write longhand comfortably yet running something off on a laser printer seemed too impersonal. I used this opportunity as an excuse to (finally) buy a new ribbon for my Royal 10 typewriter, a 30-40 lb. machine with beveled glass windows that was first produced in 1914. The ribbon arrived via Amazon (yes, I noted the irony) on Saturday and on Sunday afternoon (during a blackout, no less) I sat down to write.

The Royal 10 typewriter in all its glory.

I have not used this typewriter in probably 20 years. Despite the fact that it is a centurion, it operates pretty flawlessly (the "y" hammer is sticking). I had forgotten how simultaneously soothing and urgent that staccato strikes of the letters can be. And, I noticed something else that I miss in electronic communications, whether word processed or via email - the inherent delay that forces deceleration and allows natural time for more careful word selection. Unlike my computer keyboard, the action on the Royal is deep: it is a long way down before a key is depressed sufficiently to activate the hammer. There is a proportional mechanical response, as well - a heavier strike produces a darker letter, and sometimes nearly embosses the paper. And, beware of mistakes: I had neither Liquid Paper nor correction tape to cover over errors, and so my letter, presented on linen stationary, was peppered with words that clung together and "x's" intended to mask an errant letter. On a late autumn afternoon with no lights, it was the perfect time to become reacquainted.

This is about the time of year that I plot my annual trip to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). And if I enjoyed my mostly-quiet time with an old typewriter, I still took full advantage of technology yesterday. The local power company has an app at which customers can report and track outages; a neighborhood What's-Ap reported progress on the repairs; I used my phone to unravel a simple-yet-frustrating car repair.

The questions of what technology can do are increasingly being supplanted by how can technology do it. And, in those regards, two watchwords emerge: meaningfully, and seamlessly. These speak to the drive to exploit technology to solve "real" problems (I am not sure that the beer-fetching robot I saw at CES last year meets that standard) and to do it in a way that integrates almost imperceptibly with existing devices (I saw this in elder-alert devices that were disguised as functioning wristwatches). Although Forbes predicts that U.S. tech market growth will slow in 2019, it is still anticipated to increase 5.5% (down from an anticipated 6.7% in 2018). But, consider the meaningful changes we might see. At the Great Lakes Technology Showcase this past August, one speaker predicted that autonomous vehicle development will allow his young son, who is has cerebral palsy and is legally blind, to drive. For rural areas, technology is opening new doors that allow greater connectivity and opportunity. Refinements in telemedicine, elder-care, education and telework can broaden opportunities and attract new residents. And these will rely on the fiber backbones and the next generation of wireless services built upon them.

Watch this space over the next several months for previews of and reports from CES. They will assuredly be transmitted electronically. And, fortunately, unlike my old typewriter which lacks an exclamation point-key (maybe there was nothing to get excited about at the turn of the 20th century?), CES promises to be exciting, engaging and illuminating.