Low-tech Alternative
MODERN: Moving but on the Job

I think I am becoming addicted to technology.

Many people these days would not see that as a problem, but I can also be a bit tight with my cash and I’m afraid those two tendencies don’t go together well.

Okay, sometimes they do. For example; I used my computer and the internet to scan the available flights to New Jersey in the United States from Birmingham, England to find the best deals.

When I discovered the cheapest tickets were for Wednesday and Thursday flights, however, the booking process stalled because I was worried about this column.

Those are the days I usually write to meet my Friday deadline and my laptop is six years old so the battery now only allows me to work for about an hour between charges.

That meant writing the piece on the computer while I travelled was out of the question.

Eventually I saw the obvious solution.

I can book a cheap flight and take a pen and notebook with me so I will be able to write the thing out by hand while I travel and then type it into the computer at my mother’s house.

The thing is; it took me more than a day to see that option.

I’m mentioning this because I think we often complicate our lives by forgetting to consider low tech solutions… but that probably isn’t a new thing.

As a matter of fact, the cost of that tendency features as the main point of a well circulated story that is set in the 1960s.

In the early days of the space race, legend has it, NASA scientists realized pens could not function in space so they needed to figure out another way for astronauts to write things down.

They spent years and millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a pen that could put ink to paper without gravity. But the Soviets, so the story goes, simply used pencils.

This tale of simplicity and bureaucratic stupidity can be found all over the internet and it even featured in a 2002 episode of the West Wing.

It would also support my main point extremely well… if it were true.

According to official NASA records, however, both astronauts and cosmonauts originally used pencils, but the lead broke off and floated around inside the capsules and created a hazard for the men and equipment.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any financial waste. As a matter of fact, NASA bought 34 mechanical pencils for the dollar equivalent of P44,200 which works out to P1300 per pencil.

When those prices became public, the poop hit the afterburner and NASA had to find something cheaper for the astronauts to use.

In 1967, using their own money, the Fisher Pen Company developed a pressurized pen that would write in extreme temperatures and did not require gravity.

The company sold them to both NASA and the Soviets for less than P25 apiece.

I threw in that extra stuff because I quite like the moral behind the NASA pen and Soviet pencil legend, and the fact that the story is just a myth could be seen as an additional warning.

Technology provides us with an incredible amount of information, but we still have to be very careful because a lot of it isn’t true.

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