I got an iPad for Christmas, and the first thing I did with it was treat it as if it were a notebook. I practised writing with the Apple pen and then spent the rest of the night sketching and doodling whatever came to mind. Regardless of my subpar creative abilities, there was something quite satisfying about resuming a lost practice – it had been a long time since I had picked up a writing utensil and drawn something on a sheet of paper. Yes, the Notability app on the iPad does not technically qualify as a literal piece of paper, but after years of typing on a keyboard the idea of reclaiming handwriting excited me.
That was odd, I thought. One of the greatest selling points of the new iPad model was its pen — a device meant to resemble and act as a traditional pencil. And that’s what got me thinking about how in such an advanced and hyper-technological environment, the old seems to have become the new new.
Since the technology boom of the 1990s, corporations have launched devices to automate physically taxing activities such as writing and make the consumer’s life simpler. Yet, products like the Apple pen reveal how these same firms are now manufacturing items meant to decrease the dependence on technological devices. These sorts of products aspire to transport consumers to a time when the tech was minimal and most of our activities were done naturally.
I thought of how amusing it was that the demand for ‘simpler living’ by having tech gadgets complete harder tasks — and powered the tech industry — is beginning to deteriorate. It seemed as if, after such an overstimulating technological transformation we have witnessed in the last few years, consumers are seeking methods to reclaim their independence from electronics. Slowly, we are finding ways to dissociate from our present reality, which is fueled by technocentric culture, and instead, search for a past free of screens, likes, and automated devices that we so suddenly lost.
But what has triggered such collective realisation? Perhaps it is the fact that we have dispelled a belief that was once central to the technological revolution: that electronics would save us from eternal doom and give us a solution to everything. Instead, technology has become so ingrained in everyday life that its shortcomings are no longer hidden. People are being laid off to be replaced by machines, climate change is not being addressed, social media and digital footprints have sparked a mental health crisis, our personal data floats in a cloud we can’t reach, and electronics have discovered ways to rob us of our whole days, hooking us to screens designed to keep us stagnant.
The resurgence of products such as vinyl players, disposable cameras, and flip phones, as well as the launch of new products such as the Apple pen, the Polaroid camera, and sophisticated ink pens, reflect one of the most dramatic shifts in consumer behavior. Only 20 years ago, people gazed in astonishment at the first iPhone, daydreaming of a near-future filled with flying automobiles and cancer-curing medicine. The boundaries of technology looked limitless, and with such naivety, we placed our confidence in future appliances and gadgets while turning our backs on things we didn’t think we’d be missing in two decades.
On the contrary, now many of us acknowledge technological advancement in the same way that we regard politics and economics: as a human (rather than godly) process designed to provide power to some, money to others, and nothing to the majority. We now know it for what it is, an addiction, and are no longer oblivious or apathetic to the harm it has caused. Many of us can’t even remember what the last iPhone number was, and when we think of AI, we no longer think of a basic robot, but of a hypothetical sentient entity capable of demanding to be treated as one.
As I looked at my smart pencil a few seconds after having the epiphany I’m writing about today, I couldn’t help but laugh. I giggled because technology is absurd, but mostly because the Apple pen highlighted that demand is rising for goods that are — or appear — organic, and yet, tech companies are still finding ways to profit from this rejection of technology. As a result, we are witnessing the growth of a previously unexplored market: technologically advanced items that yet provide the customer with a sense of autonomy, mechanical movement, and nostalgic sensation. Ironic, isn’t it?
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