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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

Sometimes It Feels Better To Leave A Paper Trail

Tommy Tomlinson

It’s amazing how reassured you can feel from something as simple as a slip of paper.

But that’s how it felt last week when I got to my polling place for Super Tuesday. The poll worker who checked my address gave me a blank sheet. Another poll worker inserted it into the voting machine. And when I made my choices, it printed them out so I could double-check. It was basically a receipt for my choices at the politics store.

That slip of paper then went into a scanner, and the scanner registered my votes. Nothing was connected to the Internet. It was about as low-tech and transparent as the process could be without having somebody count the votes by hand.

There have been fears about voting machines being hacked for years. And after all the reports that the Russian government tried to rig the 2016 election, it’s fair to worry that somebody might be trying to game our voting system.

But I think there’s something bigger going here. Something about touch and detachment and the way we use our senses.

We’ve come to mistrust the technology that has transformed our lives, and for good reason. Most of us have given detailed information about our lifestyle and finances to dozens of companies in exchange for being able to shop a little faster or navigate the Internet with one or two fewer clicks.

But it’s not just that living online is more risky. It’s also less satisfying. And part of the reason is that you never get to hold it in your hand.

There are problems with paper, too, even in elections – anyone who remembers the 2000 election will never forget the phrase “hanging chad.” But paper feels reliable in a way electrons don’t.

Like most of you, I get most of my news online. But I still love to pick up the newspaper in the morning. My wife does the crossword puzzle with a pen. If there’s a story I want to save, I tear it out and stick it in my shirt pocket.

It’s not nearly as efficient. But it’s tactile, and that makes up for a lot.

I think that’s part of the reason some people are turning back toward vinyl records over streaming and back to hardbacks over ebooks. So much of our world has become like one of those laser pointers we use to distract the cat. You can chase it all day and never quite get ahold of it.

It turns out some things are still worth holding. Your ballot is one of those things. Some of my candidates lost on Tuesday. That’s the way it goes. But the process of voting, for the first time in a while, was something I felt I had a grip on.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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