Alternatives to Technology’s Arms Race

Growing up in Gary, Indiana in the Sixties, one of my favorite movies was The Day the Earth Stood Still. Filmed in monochrome, it showed ornate street lights and the robot Gort’s energy glowing in the night, shaping my vision to see in black and white. Later, after reading The Eye of Eisenstaedt, I bought a 35mm camera and began making pictures with black and white film that I learned to process during a summer session at Clarkston College.

Back then, my mother wrote checks and letters with a fountain pen. While I was in college, a high school classmate gave me a Cross ballpoint pen.. An alternative to the growing crop of disposable items designed for one-time use, the pen’s craftsmanship taught me that we get what we pay for.

Seeing a National Geographic magazine ad for Cross’s first fountain pen set my sights on writing with a fountain pen. That quest ended while serving as a Navy officer - the Navy Exchange sold Montblanc pens. That cartridge-filler wrote thousands of words and signed hundreds of letters and never needed a system upgrade.

Instead of upgrading an iPhone I rarely use, I rejected the technology arms race for a used Montblanc 146 and a used Pelikan M800. I still read paper books, get news from the print edition of the New York Times - and weather from NOAA Weather Radio with a police scanner, carry a slide rule, and make pictures with Kodak Tri-X film I develop and print myself. These tools, along with my Leica film cameras, were designed and made to last.

Why a fountain pen? Why paper? MOO CEO Richard Moross put it this way: “Paper cuts the noise.”

Letters are more secure than email, and almost forty years of constant availability is enough

My first car phone, a Motorola Pulsar I, 1980.

My first car phone, a Motorola Pulsar I, 1980.

Writing on paper with a fountain pen is much better for my fingers and neck than swiping on a phone or keyboarding. and paper books are easier on the eyes. No one ever got text neck writing with a fountain pen, reading a paper book, or using a slide rule.

Why film? Watching a print come up in the tray of developer is like opening presents on Christmas morning - and the tonal range of a fiber-based traditional silver print remains unrivaled. And I prefer the soft, amber light of the darkroom to a computer screen.