TECHNOPHOBIA. The problem with the word ‘technophobia’ is that it sounds dramatic. It immediately implies that any individual proclaiming to be such is in some way reluctant to accept change or to be ‘Luddite’ in character. I am neither of these, yet I’m becoming more and more dissatisfied with so-called modern technology, and more and more people I speak to seem to share my view.

I’m not set in my ways and I’m always keen to learn new things. However, the problem is everything seems to constantly change but only for change’s sake. Unless you dedicate your life to spotting and understanding these changes and thereby sitting at the computer for hours at a time, you suddenly find you’ve been left behind. Who, frankly, has the time, the energy, or the patience to do this?

For example, once or twice a year I pound the motorways to the far-flung corners of the island in search of machinery like a truck or a forklift, etc. Some of the places I visit are some distance away and in the course of the journey I will naturally need some sustenance. So, I pull into a motorway cafe – maybe even one I’ve visited before – and hey, presto! The coffee or tea dispenser has changed. I stand nervously in the queue awaiting my turn. Then it’s me and I stare at the battery of options and instructions and flashing lights, always aware of the growing queue behind. How did they manage to make the simple act of having a cup of tea from a small tin box into a degree-based challenge?

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: July 2021

For some years I used to take the truck to the same garage to get it serviced. Often I would be asked to take a seat in the waiting room while they sorted the paperwork. There in the corner was a no-nonsense machine. The options were listed vertically with a button alongside. You placed your 20p in the slot and selected the appropriate beverage or soup. Easy. However, armed with the same knowledge my next attempt on the motorway resulted in me pouring boiling water all over the floor, to my embarrassment and to the amusement of those standing behind. With no beverage and some in the queue tutting and sighing, I pushed on to the next services. ‘Surely this must be easier?’, I thought as I parked the car.

Sadly, I was to be disappointed as I was now faced with one with a tap which you had to physically switch on. Over the years I’ve come across some which turn to the left, some which turn to the right, some which you turn down, some you turn up and some you turn up or down and then sideways. It’s all very well having a cup of boiling water but I couldn’t see where the coffee, tea or soup came from! More tutting, more embarrassment, more sighing and another exit! This of course begs the simple question: why not make them all the same? Leave the design alone. Why make a simple machine so unworkable? In fact, to complete my embarrassment it’s worth pointing out that the last attempt I had I managed to get a cup of coffee with a teabag in it. Apparently, according to the girl at the checkout, this is impossible.

I suppose this all pales into insignificance compared to the latest trend, where food outlets are requesting we order via touchscreen. All well and good until you come to pay; unfortunately I haven’t got a smartphone and wouldn’t have a clue how to pay with it. Why should I want to spend anything up to £1,000 on a phone just so I can buy a cup of tea? Maybe I am developing a phobia about modern living.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: February 2021

Me and my girlfriend and her son recently called into Wetherspoons for a meal. The value is amazing, and if it’s the sort of thing you like you can get a good sized mixed grill for £8. Unfortunately, you have to order via an app which you scan and download. Even if I had a phone capable of carrying out this function, I wouldn’t have been carrying it as I’d been out for a walk in the park. Unlike what seems about 99.9 per cent of the rest of humanity, I don’t have the urge to be constantly looking at a phone screen. What to me seemed like a gentle stroll in the park followed by a pub lunch suddenly looked like a nightmare.

At this point my girlfriend took over, only to find that for some strange reason the app was unavailable. I have to admit that I was somewhat amused that someone like her, being so tech savvy, was suddenly annoyed and frustrated at the situation. We were on the verge of leaving when fortunately a real person in the form of a waitress appeared and physically took our order.

You see, at heart I’m a realist. When I’m at work I want to cut wood and not spend the whole day doing nothing simply because a machine won’t work as a computer has stopped talking to a sensor. Practically, we get enough problems if we hit a nail or a stone in a log, without spending hours and hours on computer-related technical issues. Technology is intended to make our lives easier, but in my experience and in my line of work I don’t see that. A simple timed controller could do the same job, be a lot more robust and be easier to sort out should a problem occur.

There’s also the issue of inertia. A technical problem occurs, and everything grinds to a halt. The staff are getting paid to look at each other and you’re in the embarrassing situation of having to contact suppliers and customers. For this reason I’ve always tried to choose reliable machines and keep things simple.

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: January 2021

As I mentioned last month, my old, reliable generator had finally come to the end of its life having done 53,000 hours with very few problems. I was very pleased that I’d been able to replace it with what looked like an identical model. Initially all was good and the big 15-litre British-built engine purred away much quieter than a small South Korean model a fraction of the size. It has loads of torque, which is ideal if you’re cutting big logs and want to maintain your saw speed. All seemed well until it switched itself off after only a few minutes. After two days of messing around and numerous phone calls I discovered that the generator’s computer, to which I’d given little thought, was programmed to run with a different system and would need to be reprogrammed. Fortunately, I know someone in Glasgow called Alan Harper with the specialist knowledge to solve the problem. Even if he can’t solve the computer problem he can fit a simple control unit if need be. Without knowing someone like this I’d really have been up the creek without a paddle. When I reflect on this I’m so glad I hadn’t gone down the computer route in the mill as I’m convinced I’d simply be another small sawmill which had gone bust; another statistic.

Of course, we all need a break. It’s been an unbelievable period and everyone has worked flat out. I have a marriage looming on the horizon which seems to be approaching at a rapid rate of knots and I really must start to show some interest. Losing a few days because of the generator hasn’t helped and all it does is increase the pressure. Pulling out a generator which was working fine now seems a stupid thing to do but I’m sure it’ll get sorted eventually. Even the crane which was brought in to lift the old one out and the new one in broke down!

Obviously, I speak to other sawmill operators and many at the moment seem beset with electrical problems and yes, much is linked to computers and software. When 95 per cent of what they do is unnecessary it makes you wonder. Are we just part of some huge vanity project?

So, I think I’ve sorted out in my mind what I’m going to do and I clearly have at my disposal the means to achieve it. I think I’m tempted to do a few more years at the mill and then probably buy a little patch of woodland in which I shall build a small but comfortable log cabin. The wood in which the cabin stands would be large enough for me to be self-sufficient. I might even go the full hog and buy a horse and cart. I can then head into town at a more relaxing pace and it will give the locals something to talk about. Whether I’ll be able to buy anything when I get there is another matter.

I’m sure life was a lot slower and more relaxing before the Industrial Revolution. Maybe I’m just not suited to this digital age!

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.