Living without computers

This is an article I wrote about cutting out computers, slowly but surely.

There are 2 big changed I am making in my life, and they coincide.

  1. I will attempting to live as computer-free an existance as possible. Just to clarify I define computer as in Personal Computer, as in my Macbook.

  2. I will actually stop faffing around talking about it and start making some music.

Both of these things are very exciting for me. Here’s the game plan for both of them:

  1. Most people, including myself, use computers for, predominantly 3 things: Internet/Communication; Text/”Office tools” and “Digital Media” (this can be subdivided… alot; though I would say this mainly comprises music (playback and creation) and Digital Photography).
    For most of the time, this plan is to make my computer as redundant AS POSSIBLE but not to actually remove it from my life entirely. However, I plan to, at some point, attempt a whole month without using my computer AT ALL!!! Just to see if I can do it.
    Here’s briefly, how I plan to rid my life of the need for computers for the things I mention above:

Text - I won’t be required to write any essays for the for-see-able future. In terms of my creative writing, I have tried using some of the best tools in the business (Pages/TextEdit wasn’t cutting it so I got Scrivener []) and found that I feel most comfortable with, that’s right, a pen and a notebook.
Anyway, Anthony Johnstone wrote this article ( about writing without computers and, taking inspiration from it, I have proceeded to buy myself lots of folders.

Photography - I won’t cut this completely, especially as I am beginning to explore the realm of video (including stop motion) but I am making a switch, gradually over to Black and White 35mm Film. It’s a pain in the ass, it’s slow, it’s expensive but bloody hell, is it so much more satisfying than digital photography.

Internet/Communication - I haven’t figured this bit out yet. I think it will involve writing lots of letters. I have however deleted a lot of my “Web 2.0 presence” including my personal myspace and left various other sites.

Music - in terms of playback; I have CDs still; but creation is the tricky one. I rely entirely on my Mac and Logic (a “Digital Audio Workstation”) for recording. By recording, I don’t just mean full quality, awesome, studio production; I mean I rely on it for sketches too.
And I am sick of it - I am sick of worrying about channel strips and bit depths and sampling rates and MIDI and SMPTE timecodes and the rest of it. I have found that working in Logic gets me out of the creative mindframe and into the technical mindframe.

Inspired by the fact that Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk (an amazing album by the way) was recorded on a VERY simplistic set-up, I have got a dictaphone and a Fostex MR-8 MkII, or in laymans terms: BIG-BLACK-BOX-WITH-FLASHING-LIGHTS-THAT-RECORDS-STUFF. It’s designed for musicians with little or no idea what they are doing technically, or, in my case, people who know what they are doing, but choosing to ignore it.

In getting this I am ignoring the very good advice of proper music production people who know what they are doing.
(Oh yeah, I’m also getting a new microphone - one that is widely reputed to be very good, and is actually designed for recording instruments… unlike my £25 Glorified-Kariokee mic that I have been using to mic up my acoustic guitar).
Oh yeah, and I’m also getting an Irish Whistle (I plan to join forces with Jenny the moment she gets her Ukele - we will be an unstoppable musical force to be reckoned with!!!)

  1. Right, so I have my dictaphone, and I have some very cool deliberately not-fancy equipment in the post. Now I just need to make music. I think I will be mainly recording sketches some of which I may release online, I may make a CD, I may just leave them as sketches and then put then into a live context.
    Well ladies and gentlemen, it finally happened - I went to a promoter, and asked for a gig. Yes, I know it’s a lot to take in, but I feel like I need to get back onto the gigging circuit. I am starting small, I asked for a VERY short set, but I think there is a good chance I will get one.
    Anyway - fingers crossed I will be playing the Route Cafe in Woking next month (I think it’s on the 24th). If I’m not playing, then you should go anyway - because it’s a really nice atmosphere and there’s good acoustic music happening there (not to mention lots of very lovely people!)
    So yes - no longer shall you hear ABOUT me making music, BUT YOU SHALL HEAR MY MUSIC (only if you want to of course…)

It feels very good to think of making music again, not as something that happened in the post, not as something I do on the side, but as a living breathing part of my life.

That will be all for now. I shall keep you posted.
Love and Peace

OOH, P.S. - Go to … hout+Names and download my electronic… thing I made last summer.

OOOOH!!! P.P.S. Go to - this girl is amazing!!!

With letters? :wink:

Anyway - good luck with your music! :slight_smile:

Yesterday, I heard an interview to Günter Grass at the Italian TV, saying that he still uses his old, trusty Olivetti typewriter (he owns four of them, to be sure, and some Spanish students sent him a lot of ink tape for the rest of his days). He needs that ‘click-click’ noise to feel he is writing, so he will never switch to computers.

My teacher of music composition (Alessandro Solbiati) is much younger than Grass, but he never uses computers to write music. Calligraphy and music is a unique in his style.

They have clever assistants payed by their publishers for all the computer work. If only I could have one myself, I would be happy to get rid of computers…


It sound like an interesting experiment, and is definitely worth trying just to shake things up and see what comes out the other end. Good luck!


[1] You’ve managed to spell both my names wrong, and consequently the URL is completely incorrect.

[2] I wrote no such article. What I recommend in Getting Things Written is not to use computers for brainstorming and/or plotting. For actual drafting of prose and script, I absolutely use, and recommend using, a computer.

Not me. In fact, I STARTED writing on a computer, on a C=64 as a kid. I’ve been writing stories for 20 years now - always on a computer. Anytime I had to fiddle with typewriters, I hated it.

I started on a typewriter, so I can understand people’s affection for them - there’s something very visceral about seeing your work appear immediately in physical form, not to mention the satisfaction of seeing a big pile of actual, real, hold-em-in-your-hand finished pages at the end of the day.*

Some writers also maintain that the inability to easily edit makes them more thoughtful and considered about what they write.

All that said, I wouldn’t go back to a typewriter if you paid me. Having seen it from both sides, I definitely prefer the convenience of a computer!

*Assuming it’s a good day, of course :wink:

I take periodic breaks from the digital life, and while I don’t think I would ever consider doing so permanently, I do feel that it has been a beneficial exercise. The longest break that I took was around six or eight months. I had a computer, but it was unplugged and in the closet the entire time. And yes, I wrote on a manual typewriter during the break, or long-hand in notebooks. I found that my artistic expression expanded into physical forms much easier. So that might be of some encouragement to you, regarding music. I too carried around a 35mm with 100 ISO B&W film (and it is a joy to develop yourself if you have the means); and spent hours creating things with my hands. Things I find myself rarely doing when there is a computer about.

So yes, I encourage anyone to try it for a while, if they are inclined to do so at all. And if you can manage, for more than a month. It might seem like an impossibly long time before you start, but once you rid yourself of the constant urge to sit down at it, you’ll soon forget it exists. You truly won’t need it.

Keeping in touch with people is a concern; I recommend getting a library card if necessary (you are going to need one anyway without the Internet for research), and using public facilities to check and send email. Keep your home computer stored in a closet and re-arrange your living/working space to fill in the gap where it used to be. Don’t just turn it off; banish it!

It’s not hard to live without computers. The hard things is to live without the people that are connected to the other end.

or withthem!

I would love a typewriter - my main concern would be the ink (I suppose I need to worry about that anyway PLUS at Uni they will pay for that for me [ooh yeah, Disabled Student’s Allowance], that and the fact that they are heavy and take up a lot of desk-space (actually probably not much more than my Macbook in fairness) - or at least the one’s I’ve seen are. I suppose I don’t spend that much time sitting at a desk writing anyway - so many it wouldn’t be worth the investment. I don’t know, I’ll have a browse around eBay. [Edit before posting: I really like the idea of a child’s typewriter]

Antony - apologise for the mis-quote. I know that in GTW you weren’t arguing for a computerless existance, but reading it was like a “Oh - so I can be organised AND not have computers” This was, up til that point, one of the biggest flaws in the plan because my dyslexia specifically affects the part of my brian that allows me to organise myself (or not) so having a clearly defined system where I just fill in the blanks is REALLY good for me.

Amber - one good thing about being an Arts student is that you have regular access to a Darkroom, including chemicals and not have to worry about paying for anything other than paper and film. If it wasn’t for this, there is no way I would shoot 35mm.

Library card shouldn’t be an issue while I’m at college, but during the holidays it may become one. It doesn’t seem worth thinking now because I’m moving away to Uni in just under 5 months. Thanks for your input on this - it’s interesting that I’m not the only one who likes the idea of going analogue.

As we discussed about six months ago in a different thread, a computer – even a typewriter – is sometimes the wrong tool for writing. For poetry, love letters, bereavement messages, and probably greeting cards, you need to write. As in handwriting, penmanship, manuscript.


Ink isn’t too hard to come by, even these days. Many office stores still have universal ribbon spools in stock, and if they do not they have a way to order them for you. The main problem is finding a quality typewriter that is going to withstand a lot of use. I have come across some deals on eBay (I got a nearly mint 1926 Underwood portable for $40, once), but finding a typewriter this way is a lot like buying shoes over the Internet. So many are suffering from rust and lack of maintenance; and most people do not even know where to look for these things. They just found it on the top shelf of a recently passed relative and say it works because they tapped a few keys. Others have decomposing non-metal parts that will break. If you really want to get a typewriter you can pound away on, it’s best to stick with a local (ha) shop, or some Internet refurb site like Mr. Typewriter. You’ll be looking at more like $100-150 USD, instead of the $30-50 on eBay, but you’ll know you are getting something that will actually last years.

Another thing you probably aren’t thinking of is finger strength! It will probably take you 30 days just to work up those finger muscles. :slight_smile: For a newbie to manuals, I recommend something with short lever action, like one of the later Olivetti portables. Typing on a Lettera 35 is almost like typing on an older Mac keyboard. Another nice thing about this model is that they were made in the 80s, so internal degradation will be less of a problem.

You already thought of ribbon scarcity, but another scarcity that exists that, in my experience, is even more difficult to solve is typing paper. Pretty much all you can get these days is heavy 20-24# paper designed for printers. This stuff is too thick for most typewriters, and actually increases the amount of manual force required to type. Try typing with 9-15# paper and suddenly key action is much cleaner. Finding thin stock is really difficult though. Most stores refuse to carry it because it will consistently jam printers and they don’t want to put up with all of the returns it would incur. Even if they clearly labelled it as typing paper, you’d still have confused people.

But once you find a typewriter you have an affinity for, and you get used to the mechanics of writing on one, it is a fun way to write. Sure it used to be all the world had, but as an alternative, it can bring out new prose styles and so forth if you are the type of person that is positively impacted by changing external variables.

Perhaps I’m behind the times, but I have never seen a typewriter that doesn’t utterly dominate a desk, in a way a laptop never could :wink:

De nada, although my name and URL are still completely wrong. I know you said you’re dyslexic, but surely that’s what copy and paste is for :wink:

I’m all for using limitations of form to boost freedom of expression. That being said I won’t be giving up my computer any time soon. Since you’re set on doing it though, some encouraging support evidence:

Sonic Youth have never used anything bigger than an 8-track analogue recorder. Most of their albums were recorded with three or four mics and a Fostex 4-track. Being so limited with materials, they eked out the absolute maximum they could out of it…they fed tape in odd ways, they ran drum machines through their guitar amps, they played guitar with power drills and double-ended vibrators. And it was good…so good.

Jim Henson’s masterpiece ‘The Dark Crystal’ is a magnum opus of limited form. What I mean is this - there have been no animated/CG features made any time since, ANYWHERE, that have matched the otherworldly creativity of that film. My theory is that, using a 3D modelling tool you can create and animate ANY form…but usually this translates to yet another exquisitely rendered pair of breasts. The creatures in the dark crystal were limited in that they all were puppets, and thus must be somehow operable by a (talented) human being. Who had the masterful idea to put stilts on an acrobats hands AND feet, then have them leap about like some surreal gazelle? Who knows…but it’s doubtful that, asked to ‘create a creature’ in 3DS Max, that they would have built anything so unique.

True that! There are slim portable typewriters that have a MacBook footprint, roughly—but MacBooks don’t have heavy chunk of spring-loaded metal and rubber flying left and right, knocking everything aside with mechanical glee and a ding.

My biggest problem is this. A MBP has so much potential to do many different things where as a typewriter was more of an appliance and it did one thing well.

So using a typewriter you would type on it (and sometimes bang on it) but that was all you did so when you sat down in front of this “appliance” you did so with one purpose in mind.

Now when you sit down in front of a MBP it can do many many things.

You can use it as a form of communication (like sitting down and talking on the phone) you can edit audio or video, you can research things on the internet, design really neat stuff, organize things, etc. etc etc etc

So what happens is you have one appliance that belongs in many “rooms”.

The hard part is when you sit down in front of it you need to already have decided what use you want from it prior to using it or what will happen is you will tool around do many things but never actually completing any of them.

So instead of removing the computer time from your life I would say remove the distractions by having a pre planned approach BEFORE turning it on.


I think this is a good discussion, but at least in my case (I cannot speak for Sebbi), my reasons for going on a digital sabbatical had very little to do with “distraction” or convenience, and more to do with challenging current methods and developing new habits. I like to shake myself up every now and then and see what falls out of the box, so to speak. You can learn a lot about yourself by adopting a different lifestyle for a while; things you can then turn around and apply to yourself in the future. In my experiencing, doing something like this wakes up a lot of potential in areas not even anticipated, from the types of places you frequent to the way you even look at other people in and out of your life. You might even come up with new ideas for stories and other art forms that would otherwise have never come up.

For myself, removing a computer from my daily routine is a large enough factor that it can accomplish the above. For others that use it much more minimally or for very specific purposes, it might be simply an exercise is making easy tasks more difficult! For a lot of people, I think getting rid of their computer for a while would accomplish very little. For others, it might give them an entirely new perspective on the world.

And thus my knowledge of typewriters is shown.

That’s very interesting - I didn’t know that. It’s also interesting that an 8 track Fostex arrived in the post for me today. Although, this time digital. It’s still incredibly primitive compared to my Logic set-up (Logic is a very high-end piece of software), or even my Garageband set-up.

Oh yeah, I also only own 3 mics.

You can speak for me here actually. That’s very much it.

I think, in terms of distractions - there’s very little I actually use my Macbook for, other than to distract myself; if I have something to “DO” on my Macbook, then I will generally be able to just get on with it - unless I don’t want to do it.

If you didn’t notice my absence that last week or so it is probably due to wock and vic-k making enough smart-arse comments for the 3 of us.

I just returned from 5 days with little to no computer. I found that the “nervous addiction” to information and stimuli subsided in 2 days. The next three were spent in relative bliss. Now that I am back it took one day just to sort through the accumulated electronic cruft at work, another day for home, and now I have spent most of this evening “catching up” with my friends here.

I do not think that it is impossible to go without a computer for the rest of your life (the uncle I was visiting has never had one). But if you plan on returning to a computerized life be prepared to be lost in mountains of information when you return.

And let us know when you are going off line so we don’t worry about you.

The best reason to do it, for sure. The last time I did such a thing was, alas, 14 years ago (!) when I quit my job in a design agency to go backpacking around Europe, with nothing except phone calls and postcards to keep in touch with my family. Three months later I returned and went back to agency work with a radically different outlook on life and work that’s, I think, held me in good stead over the years.

Alas, I simply couldn’t do it now, or at least not at this moment. My American publishers (of which there are several) simply wouldn’t accept me turning in physical copy and/or having to FedEx pages trans-Atlantic :frowning: So until and unless I somehow evolve into a one-book-every-twelve-months kind of writer, I doubt I’ll ever be able to do away with the computer again.