Counting on the old school

Just to prove the enduring simplicity of great design is never eclipsed by modern technology, here’s a holiday snap from Sylvia Katz’s trip back to her father’s village in what is now known as the Subcarpathian Ukraine.

Sylvia, an author and expert on plastics, says: “I met this perplexed shopkeeper trying to do her accounts, caught between an immense wooden abacus and a small calculator, (cast aside on the left of the picture).

“Considering the state of the stock in her shop, this shouldn’t have been a problem,” she adds. Yeah, Sylvia, but counting an endless row of jars of jam and several dozen packets of white stuff can be tricky.

It’s worth remembering, Sylvia continues, that the abacus is still used in many parts of the world. Even in Japan, post office staff use it to carry out quick calculations, she informs us.

This seems an opportune moment to call on the abacus users of the world to unite in a campaign to retain this “fundamentally human and organic” device. Rattle those abaci!

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