Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

From a Typewriter to an iPad in Three Easy Decades

By Cam Mather

Firing up my 27-year-old Macintosh computer when Steve Jobs died made me kind of reminiscent about the “good” old days of computing. And “the time before.”

Michelle and I love to regale our tech savvy daughters with stories of having to “type” our essays during high school and university. Can you imagine? And as someone who makes a mistake every 7 characters the concept seems terrifying to me. I remember having to use a white tape that you placed over your mistake, typed the “wrong” character again, which coloured the wrong letter white, and then you retyped the correct letter. This was before “White Out” was invented.

We had a very old “Underwood” typewriter when I was a kid that I used to like to play around on. In fact, our girls loved to play on it too. Even though they had computers to use, they spent hours typing out stories and newsletters on that old Underwood. They seemed to love the sound of the keys striking the paper. It was very tactile. Very rewarding.

We also had an electric typewriter that they loved to use. There were endless notes banged out on it.

I had been using and selling Apple II computers when the Macintosh was first introduced, and luckily since Michelle was earning a good salary teaching, we were able to buy one of the first Macs.

For the last 27 years I’ve been in an endless loop of upgrading my computers, usually about every 3 years. That original design of the Macintosh got more powerful and you could add hard drives, but eventually Apple went with a more traditional desktop look.

We used our Macintosh Powerbook 7600 at the height of our electronic publishing business. We had dozens of customers and produced hundreds of electronic artwork files every year. We archived these on SyQuest removable 80 MB drives, which was state of the art at the time. I migrated many to be burned on CDs and DVDs eventually, but if someone asked me for something stored on one of those old SyQuest or ZIP discs today, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. I think the last time I tried the SyQuest drive it was dead.

When we were going full-bore with the electronic publishing business I had a large high-resolution monitor. We moved it with us to this house off the grid and it was a big mistake. It used way too much power, but since I was already dealing with a hundred different issues while learning to live off-grid, I wasn’t ready to upgrade my desktop computer at the time. But pretty soon it became apparent that I had no choice but to get rid of it and of course I couldn’t sell that old monitor because it was 3 years old, so I gave it to a friend on the grid.

So 13 years ago we started using laptops.

Our first Macintosh laptop was black. The apple logo on the outside of the case looked fine if you were sitting in front of it with the laptop closed. But as soon as you opened up your laptop, the apple appeared upside down for anyone looking at the back of your computer. Apparently people didn’t like this and so Apple changed the orientation of their logo on subsequent laptops. Surprisingly this laptop still works and Michelle has still been using it for accounting purposes.

After the black laptop we bought a MacBook G4.

Our next laptop was a MacBook Pro, which offered a fantastic 17” display. The larger display is helpful for our book layout work.

Our daughters have had their share of iBooks since they started university.

What I’m struck by now is how cheaply made all electronic equipment is. It’s like manufacturers feel their stuff will be out of date in a few years, so they don’t bother to build them well. When the hard drive in Michelle’s 5-year-old laptop died, our tech guy suggested that you’re lucky if you get 5 or 6 years out of a hard drive today. Five years? What? The one in our first laptop is still working 13 years later.

I hate throwing stuff out, which is why I’ve been able to take the photos for this blog because I still have these computers. I am not a hoarder though! This is for reminiscing! The way electronic waste piles up for most North Americans is terrifying. Power supplies go. Hard drives go. Some integrated circuit goes. It’s cheaper to buy a new one than to replace it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m sort of looking forward to the day I that I can unplug from the matrix permanently. No computer. No cell phone. No more blogs. No eBooks. No upgrades. No new version 3.0 you have to move to for some function to work.

Growing food is technology free. There are no upgrades. No hard drives to crash. No backing up. Innovations come along, but a lot of them are fancy tools that city people seem to like. The shovel I’m using today is pretty much the same design as the one I used 35 years ago in my first garden. The 4-tined cultivator I like to use for weeding is consistent from year to year. There is no must have “Cultivator 4.0” that I need to invest in.

The garden calls to me, constantly. The computer … not so much. I miss the garden when I’m kept out of it by work or bad weather. I love weekends when I don’t turn my computer on for two days. I never miss my computer.

I guess I’m a technology turncoat. I’m officially off the “technology keener” team. My daughters’ iPhones have way more computing power than rooms full of NASA computers that put a person on the moon. Lights blink and dance on my routers and Ethernet hubs and satellite internet modems and hard drives and they’re making me dizzy. It makes we want to go shovel some horse manure.



  1. Linda

    P L E A S E K E E P B L O G G I N G ………and gardening


  1. A Look Back at 2011 « Aztext Press Solutions for Sustainability

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: