Observations from around the City

By David Michael Newstead.

Walking around, you get these glimpses into other people’s lives. Brief snapshots. And for whatever reason, these things made an impression on me. There’s the homeless guy on the corner who neatly sweeps the sidewalk around where he lives. There’s the old repairman who keeps an enormous academic book in his tool bag to read just for fun on his breaks. Then, there are the Muslim girls who use their hijabs to hold their smartphones in place while they walk and talk. Every day, a pack of old dudes religiously plays chess in the park, relocating to a nearby Starbucks when it’s too cold outside. And in-between the people you meet, there’s the city itself: nice and new in some parts, old and forgotten in others with gnarly graffiti crawling up the walls. There’s the colorful artwork on the side of a food truck that never seems to drive anywhere. And storefronts that we built before my parents were born. Sometimes, it’s all worth taking note of.


Annual 2017

By David Michael Newstead. PhilosophyOfShaving18

This collection of posts from 2017 includes interviews with authors and gender experts, a series on toxic masculinity, and discussions on the future of men. Other highlights include short stories, features on human rights in the Trump era, and a history of Rosie the Riveter.

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Return of the Typewriter Inheritance

By David Michael Newstead.

In 2015, I started a blog series about repairing my grandfather’s old typewriter. The idea was to talk about my grandfather, how I got his typewriter, and my on-going struggle to repair this really cool machine. Somewhere along the way though, things got sidetracked and it’s been awhile since I featured The Typewriter Inheritance on my blog. I was still interested in the project, of course, and it’s not like I suddenly forgot about the typewriter sitting in my living room. It’s just that 2017 didn’t feel like the right time to work on stuff like that for a laundry list worth of reasons. But this year, I want to relaunch the series, redouble my efforts to repair the typewriter in question, and to write about some interesting things in the process. The good news is I’ve already begun that work. And this time, I’m going to stick with it until the end.

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By David Michael Newstead.

Kevin was a friend of my mom’s when I was growing up. I don’t remember many details about him. I was too young to. But there are certain parts I can’t forget either. Kevin had a convertible. Kevin took us all sailing. Kevin was pretty cool. Kevin was gay and, before I had any concept of anything, Kevin would die from HIV/AIDS in 1992. It’s strange to think about now, because it was so long ago. I’ve been told that when he was losing weight towards the end I drew Kevin a picture of a pizza thinking that would help. And it did a little I suppose, because it cheered him up. After he died though, years went by before I really asked any questions about Kevin. It hadn’t occur to me to. Then, just after I turned 34, I learned that Kevin had only been 33 when he passed away. As a kid, all adults seem inconceivably older than you are. Now, Kevin didn’t seem old at all. Over the years, I find myself struggling with the same question again and again. What’s left of us once we’re gone? Maybe a few stories among friends. Some photographs. No doubt a pile of bills and paperwork. But do we leave behind something more? Something lasting? I can’t say for sure. The fact is, I’m no closer to an answer now than the day I started wondering. All I know is Kevin Abend-Olsen died a lifetime ago, but I still remember him. For whatever that’s worth.

Extras: Revenge of Analog

California Typewriter / Revenge of Analog


David Michael Newstead.

California Typewriter pretends to be a documentary about typewriters, but it’s actually about the limits of technology in our lives. The Revenge of Analog is a book by David Sax about outdated things that have found success again in the digital age precisely because they aren’t digital. I didn’t intend to read that book right after I saw the documentary. It was just by chance. The documentary got put on Amazon Video and then I finally got around to reading something that had been sitting on my bookshelf. As it turns out though, the two go together perfectly.

California Typewriter follows a range of people and their connections to typewriters today. Actor Tom Hanks collects typewriters for fun. Musician John Mayer uses them to write songs. Artist Jeremy Mayer builds elaborate sculptures out of old typewriter parts for Silicon Valley executives. Meanwhile, a small brick and mortar store in Berkley still sells and repairs typewriters and struggles to stay afloat. It’s through these stories and others that some important issues get raised about technological change and obsolescence, the significance of actual tactile experiences, and the need for more balance in our relationship with technology. For me, one of the most memorable parts was when John Mayer talked about digital technology and the cloud as being a kind of glorified trashcan where you can go back and look at everything you’ve ever done, but you never actually do. Another great moment came when a historian explained that all the letters of the word typewriter are located on the top line of your keyboard and were put there intentionally so that salesmen could demonstrate this “high-tech” new product.

The Revenge of Analog follows the revival of industries and activities that seemed like they were near death just a few years ago. In a purely utilitarian sense, most of the things David Sax covers in the book were made obsolete by digital technology and the internet. Yet, they survive and are now thriving, because people want more than just the internet! Some notable examples include the dramatic resurgence of vinyl record sales, the success of companies like Moleskine and The Economist, and people’s renewed love of board games at a time when meaningful interactions are becoming scarcer and scarcer. But instead of this reflecting some hipster trend or baby boomers’ nostalgia, Sax shows the limits of technology’s dominance where people choose an analog option because they actually prefer it. He goes on to discuss the dismal results of some digital initiatives like MOOCs (Mass Open Online Courses) and One Laptop Per Child that were supposedly going to be so world changing. They weren’t. The author writes:

Digital’s overwhelming superiority initially renders the analog alternative largely worthless, and devalues that analog technology significantly. But over time, that perception of value shifts. The honeymoon with a particular digital technology inevitably ends, and when it does, we are more readily able to judge its true merits and shortcomings. In many cases, an older analog tool or approach simply works better. Its inherent inefficiency grows coveted; its weakness becomes a renewed strength.

On page 40, he later adds:

Then there is the question of legacy. In digital, a legacy brand is yesterday’s lunch, because the best digital technology is always the next one, and consumers have no loyalty to the past. In analog, legacy commands a premium. “You can perfectly imitate a Louis Vuitton bag,” Maffe said, pointing at one hanging on the arm of an elegantly dressed woman sitting near us in the luxury hotel café where we were having coffee, “but you can’t sell it for six thousand dollars because you don’t have the heritage. As long as you can convince users the past is relevant, they’ll pay billions for it. There is no rational economic reason behind that. Just marketing.”

I spent some time mulling over this book and the documentary I had watched. Neither one was anti-technology by any means. It’s just that we’re at an interesting crossroads as a society – somewhere between The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. So if it’s possible to do absolutely everything online, then I think it’s noteworthy when we choose to take a different path. For many people, that doesn’t come naturally, because embracing new technology and discarding old devices was our default for so long. I’m part of a shrinking group that can vaguely recall life before the internet. I remember all the upbeat technological hype of the late 1990s and 2000s. And while plenty of those changes were good, it’s also important to question the extent of technology’s place in our lives nowadays. Or perhaps a better way of saying it: deciding what we want to keep in the real, non-digital world.

David Sax also points out how we value the analog, the real, and the tangible in ways that the digital can’t ever come close to. Nostalgia might play a part in that, but it’s not the driving force anymore. To me, it almost seems like every platform or medium has its own golden age that can be remembered and romanticized, but never quite recreated. After all, radio will never be as relevant as it was when FDR was giving fireside chats or when Orson Welles was dramatizing The War of the Worlds. To people of a certain generation, cassette mix tapes on a Sony Walkman were like love letters. And comic books were once the cheap, brightly colored foundation of many people’s childhoods. Polaroids, paperbacks, movie reels, 8-tracks, newspapers, Saturday morning cartoons: it all meant something to someone. And when I try to recall my own memories of these analog things, it feels like a time capsule that’s meaningful to me, but would probably be inconsequential to someone who grew up in another era. I remember the first CDs I bought and how I eventually alphabetized them all on this rotating plastic rack. I remember the thrill when my family first got a VCR and how fun it was to rent VHS tapes from Blockbuster on a Friday night. I remember being hunched over my desk as I wrote down ideas in Mead composition notebooks that could fill up a shelf. And I remember fondly waiting a week or more for photos to get developed before I knew how a picture turned out. I liked those things and I value those memories. Hell, I own a typewriter. But The Revenge of Analog and California Typewriter aren’t trying to turn the clock back a few decades to some idyllic past. They’re really about living in the moment and nowadays that means not being online all the time.

Watch California Typewriter

Read The Revenge of Analog

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