For the Love of the Low-Tech Company

I have flirted with the idea of returning to a low- or no-tech lifestyle. Crazy fantasies of rotary telephones, file cabinets and visits to the library usually surface after a tech "incident." Like when an important call drops out on my cell phone, or my computer randomly locks up, or a member of Congress sends me an unsolicited photo.

Of course, when sanity returns I realize the amazing advantages we have in our lives, thanks to developments like high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi, smart phones, computer tablets, and so on. Thanks to technology we get more done in less time with fewer people. That leaves us with more time to socialize on Facebook, play video games, Tweet our friends, or just do more work. Hmmm …

In his 1980s bestseller, Megatrends, author John Naisbitt warned of the oncoming digital technology age and its dehumanizing effects. He predicted the high-tech, high-touch paradigm – meaning that the more time we spend engaged with technology, the more we'll crave "high-touch," or authentic human experiences. Our local farm markets, book clubs, and microbrew festivals come to mind.

Then there are those unexpected, unplanned low-tech, high-touch experiences. Recently, I was a customer in a no-tech zone. The business employs four people who service up to twelve clients an hour like clockwork, and in a space no larger than a modest living room. Their clientele includes bank presidents, salesmen, politicians, retirees, laborers, teachers, even the unemployed.

There are no CPUs, laptops, tablets, or smart phones, no answering machines, no e-mail, no intercom. They do, however, have rotary telephones, cash boxes, and a spiral notebook and pencil for appointment scheduling.

Welcome to TC's Robertson's Hair Center: four barbers, four chairs, four phones, plus "frills" like an antique radio, a few old wooden chairs for waiting customers, and a laminated buffalo chip hanging on the wall.

About the closest they get to high-tech is the new flat-screen television, which appears to be the only thing in the shop that's been updated in the past decade. Calling Robertson's a Hair Center is like calling the Old Mission General Store a shopping mall, which is why everyone knows it simply as Robertson's.

On a recent afternoon I sit in the chair chatting with my barber, Greg, when everyone's attention is diverted to a potential problem. Seems Barber Joe has scheduled two clients at the same time. Young guy, in his twenties, tells Joe he has a five o'clock appointment today, Thursday, but an older guy relaxing with the newspaper says his appointment is at five o'clock with Joe too. Now everybody is focused on Joe as he consults his spiral notebook. Turns out the younger guy has a five o'clock on Friday, not Thursday, but he can't make the Friday appointment because he's flying out of town to Atlanta.

A software scheduling program may have prevented this confusion, or it may have amplified it, but the problem was easily remedied – without technology. After a few minutes of relaxed conversation, the older fellow agrees to come back Friday afternoon. The young guy looks relieved and stands up to say thanks and shakes hands with the departing older customer.

With the problem solved, the other barbers and customers weigh in with some good old-fashioned ribbing: "Maybe Joe needs a secretary." Or, "That young fellow headed to Atlanta is like most of Joe's clients: They all leave town after his haircuts." Then it's back to casual conversation and the ultimate high-touch experience: having another human shave the back of your neck and trim the hair growing out of your ears.

I'm not ready to dump, er … recycle my computer, but in a 5G world of head-spinning changes, I'd like to hoist a glass of locally crafted, micro brewed beer and toast what's left of the no-tech world.