U prof. disdains the everyday e-trappings of modern life

Paul Sand

Try sending University geography professor and author John Fraser Hart an e-mail – just don’t expect a speedy reply.

Hart, 78, does not use e-mail. He doesn’t use a computer for word processing. He doesn’t have a voice mail account.

Instead of typing on his old yellowing computer, he said he prefers his electric typewriter.

“I simply never got around to using the computer,” Hart said. “My typewriter works quite well.”

Although Hart doesn’t use a computer to write e-mails, he does have an e-mail address which geography department secretary Margaret Rasmussen monitors.

Rasmussen said she sorts through Hart’s e-mails, printing off important notes and then passing them along. Using his typewriter, Hart types a reply to each e-mail.

Rasmussen then retypes his reply in an e-mail.

“I guess he doesn’t feel the need to change at this point in his life,” she said.

Although some might consider Hart behind the times, Rasmussen said the professor remains very active in the department, teaching a large introductory class and writing books.

Jodi Larson, geography department senior secretary, said she hasn’t heard any complaints about Hart being difficult to reach.

“Most people just chuckle and say he’s got his way of doing things,” she said.

Hart said he just isn’t convinced of the advantages of sending a note with the click of a mouse.

“I’ve been told most of what comes through e-mail is garbage,” Hart said. “I have a sense that people, without thinking, just hit the button and send an e-mail. It’s become pervasive, but I haven’t bought into it.”

Still, some aren’t quite willing to live and let live and would rather Hart joined the 21st century.

Sociology sophomore Kelly Motzko, a student of Hart’s, said it can be difficult to reach the professor for queries about his geography of the United States and Canada class.

“It’s kind of frustrating that if you miss a day you can’t contact him to figure out what’s going on,” she said.

Mechanical engineering freshman Eric Thole echoed Motzko’s sentiment.

“You can’t get a hold of him unless you’re in class or at his office hours,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, but it’s not exactly convenient.”

Hart said the geography department’s staff is good about taking messages. And, he said, he has two capable teaching assistants in his lecture class.

While Hart said he did have a University voice mail account, he didn’t check his messages for three months, rendering his account unusable.

“Nobody ever calls me; I get letters,” he said. “My wife doesn’t even know the number.”

“If I plan ahead, I can write a letter,” Hart said. “I’ve got things organized well; I don’t have to make a panicky phone call.”

But wouldn’t it have been easier to co-author his latest book – about American mobile home culture – using a word processor? Hart says no. He’ll do a manual spell check on the typewriter any day.

Pointing to the tape recorder attached to his office phone, Hart said he is not a technophobe – his time is better spent teaching and writing than learning the ins and outs of the latest technology.

“I think it would take a week to learn how to use a computer, but I’ve got better things to do with that week,” he said.

Paul Sand welcomes comments at [email protected]