Preference for a Low-Tech Lifestyle

I mentioned in a previous article how Im not much of a technology buff. As I sit here writing this our office computer network is suffering from its second instance of the Crypto-Locker virus. Im able to write locally on my laptop, but the rest of the staff is pretty much unable to work on any CAD or BIM files stored on our server. Other than the fact that we still have email and internet access, its a little like going through a power outage.

When I first started working in architecture firms in the 1980s, this wouldnt have mattered as we still did most of our work by hand. Even as recently as 10 years ago at my last office I spent most of my time doing quality assurance reviews on printed sets of drawings – highlighting in yellow china marker the items I had checked, and flagging in red pen any conflicts I noticed. We actually did lose power once, and all I had to do was move my stuff over by a window in the conference room and continue working (while the rest of the office lamented the work they had lost by not saving in time before the shutdown).

In my career Ive worked at 10 firms, in three states, for periods as short as two months and as long as almost 13 years. I remember not even having a fax machine until I was at my sixth office (while in graduate school in 1989), and not actually using one until I had moved to California and my seventh office in 1990. Since that time the use of email and the internet have further changed the way most of us work. And all of the hardware and software we have to use for our building documentation focus now make those tools seem almost like childrens toys.

In some sense I think my reluctance to embrace the latest technology may come from growing up on farm outside of a small town in Central Illinois. There is admittedly some nostalgia on my part for simpler times. When we first discovered the virus this morning and had to shut everything down, I was talking with another architect my age here about the storm related power outages we used to have on the farm all the time when I was a kid. My sister and I would get out our portable AM radios, and Mom would light the kerosene hurricane lamps. We had candles and battery flashlights, and used to make kind of a game of the whole thing. I remember once putting a blanket over the kitchen table and lying beneath it like we were camping out in a tent. Usually these episodes only lasted for a few hours, but once it seemed like it went much longer as we had to melt ice cubes on the gas stove to get some water (our water supply was a well with an electric pump so once we used up what there was in the small storage tank we were out). When I was very young we didnt have central heating, and even after we got it in the mid-1970s still often used a wood burning fireplace and woodstove.

Im all in favor of modern conveniences, but I know there are many people who always have to have the latest new gadget. My Dad always felt that the more bells and whistles something has the more things there are to break down. We get frustrated around here just trying to keep up with all of the software updates and hardware calibrations required to do our jobs. Ive never liked the fact that some providers seem to continually change things just because they can (even if they dont need to), and it all contributes to a sort of planned obsolescence. It seems weve become so dependent on technology that when something small happens beyond our control our production is crippled. This of course always seems to happen in the middle of a big push toward a project deadline. Countless hours and dollars are wasted just getting everything back to where we were before it all happened. Its usually times like these when I reflect back on when things didnt seem so complicated, and my lifestyle was a lot more low-tech.

About the Author

Mick Cunningham, RA

Mick Cunningham, RA... is a California licensed architect with 30 years of work experience in existing conditions documentation, building code analysis, construction document preparation, specification editing, interdisciplinary document coordination, quality assurance review, plan check agency processing, construction contract administration and project closeout on a variety of project types including healthcare, educational, hospitality, commercial, institutional, industrial and residential. Since 2005 he has been with Irvine, California based, Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC), , a firm that specializes in documenting existing building conditions. In 2012 he joined the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD), . The USIBD is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to all stakeholders with an interest in building documentation.
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