Sliding Backward on Tech? There Are Benefits

Quite often, I find that it doesn’t. What lands in the loss column may have to do with process, and the process of doing something can be just as valuable as the end result. I read this book last year, “Cræft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts.” I am in no way crafty, but this book had me yearning to thatch my own roof just to be in touch with the physical and attendant mental labor of putting something useful together. (That said, I haven’t lifted a finger.)

On the flip side, I find that many new technologies are actually far less efficient than the tools they attempt to replace. A Nook or a Kindle or iPad is, for my purposes, unequivocally worse than a printed book. You can’t flip back and forth to the photo inserts or skim easily through the index; you have no sense of page count (percentages, really?). You lose the design of the product, which is often beautiful, down to the weight of the paper and the choice of typeface. You’d have to pay me a very fancy salary to give up print for a year.

Same thing with paper calendars; they’re just better. I get irrationally impatient with the slowness with which people tap meetings into their calendars on the phone. It is at least 30 seconds faster to write it in an old-timey agenda (Levenger here). My Google calendar will always play second fiddle to this far more detailed agenda, supplemented by Post-its and a Moleskine to-do list. I trace this obsession with efficiency to the children’s book “Cheaper by the Dozen,” about a couple of efficiency experts and their brood, which I took way too literally.

Given all this, what does your tech setup look like for doing your work?

My personal life, techwise, operates in sharp contrast to and in part as ballast against my professional life. Despite working on what one might consider the most low-tech of beats, we are in a tech-oriented workplace, and our content is delivered through high-tech platforms to tech-savvy readers.

What’s your advice for others who want to downgrade their tech?

In general, when I hear the phrase “There’s an app for that,” my first question is, “Does there need to be?” The vast majority of new technologies are developed with a profit motive. So each new form of tech raises the question: Is this something I’m willing to pay for, whether the cost is in terms of dollars or privacy? Like many people, I chafe at the notion of my personal life being monetized.

How has the book industry’s shift toward digital publishing changed the way that The Times reviews books? And what hasn’t changed?

Strictly in terms of review process, our desk hasn’t changed much — because the vast majority of our editors and reviewers prefer to work in print.

It’s easier for an editor to assess a book without reading it in its entirety by dipping in and out. Reviewers like to mark up their galleys, which are early review copies.

That said, PDFs make fact-checking far easier and speed our process for embargoed books. We can also see early editions of visual books that aren’t available in galleys (the printing costs are too high) without having to wait for finished physical copies. And we can more readily get access to audiobooks digitally than we ever could with CDs.

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