Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cogitations on Technology

My damned email program crashed again last night! That is the third or fourth time it has crashed recently, and I'm over it. I migrated all my email accounts to Gmail. I hate getting used to new applications. It never fails that just when I get everything customized just the way I like it, either the computer crashes and I have to reinstall everything and start over or there is some kind of major upgrade to Windows or the program I am using causing everything to change both how it looks and how it operates. That always throws me for a loop. I am a creature of habit and I don't want to have to think about how to do something with my computer; I just want to do it. God, I'm such a crank!

Learning to navigate the Gmail system and setting up new contacts, etc., caused me to think about technology. Today I can sit on my couch and look at live photos of traffic jams in in Paris, check the weather in my home town, track airplanes going to or from any airport in the world, look up definitions to arcane words or do all kinds of research. What is more, I can chat with people from around the globe and download music, videos, and pictures from a host of sources. I get irritated when the cable connection goes out or a page loads too slowly.

That made me think about my life in terms of the technology.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter, an Underwood that was an antique even at the time. A manual typewriter. No electricity involved. Sucker weight about 80 pounds. Changing typewriter ribbon.... well, some things are just too painful to think about.

In college I had a portable manual typewriter. I was a French major. My typewriter was an American made model that did not have accent marks. I had to manually add the accent marks to every paper I typed; that was a lot of manual editing. The university's registration process was "computerized", which meant we had to stand sometimes for hours in enormous lines that snaked around the auditorium and sometimes stretched outside onto the sidewalks. When a student finally got to the front of the line keypunch operators typed the class registrations into the computer. I spent most of my time in line praying to god I would not be shut out of a class because that required going to "Drop-Add". If you know what that means, you know how awful it was. If you don't know what that means, get down on your knees and thank the gods you are young enought to have missed it. And, after "Drop-Add" you had to go back to Registration and stand in line again. Fortunately for me, as a language major, I took a lot of classes nobody else wanted to take so I rarely had that problem. By my senior year I was in good enough standing that I had a couple of professors who were willing to force-add me to classes. I took a couple of classes I really did not want to take just because I could register through the department and not have to go through Registration. My general opinion of computers at that stage in my life was that they were more trouble than they were worth.

After I graduated, I spent a couple of years working as a translator. I got an IBM "Correcting Selectric" typewriter with extra type-balls for various languages. I could add the accent marks electrically! The combined improvement of the electric typewriter and the accent marks included made me one happy gal. I thought I was on the cutting edge of technology.

In the early 1980's I worked for a law firm that was handling large national litigation. We used several computer vendors to do what they called "automated litigation support." The vendors hired teams of coders to hand print bibliographic data from documents onto data entry forms which were then keypunched into gigantic mainframe computers housed in the basements of buildings somewhere. In the law firm, we logged into the databases on slave terminals (at astronomical cost) to run searches on the databases in order to identify documents relevant to certain issues in our cases. The output we got consisted of long lists of document numbers printed out on paper that came off rolls (and persisted in curling up as it came off the printer). We had to pull hard copies of documents manually in order for the attorneys to review them. It was a nightmare. I remember someone mentioning to me the idea of optically scanning documents into the computer. I thought that sounded like heaven if such a thing were even possible, which I doubted.

Sometime in the late '80's I acquired an electronic typewriter. It held about two lines of text which you could correct before printing it on the paper. Since I have always sucked as a typist, that feature was an incredible leap forward for me. I typed newsletters on that typewriter for several organizations for years. I also wrote two (lousy) novels and god knows how many stories on it.

In the early '90's my husband bought his son a computer, which he hooked up to a thing called the Internet. He never shared it with us, but he said it was amazing. In late 1996, he got a new computer and gave me his old one. He showed me how to log onto the Internet and he set me up with a Yahoo email account. Since I didn't know anyone who had email, I did not think that was a very useful feature, but I did like cruising databases for random and useless information, which is, of course, the best kind. Mainly I used the computer for a typewriter.... the most amazing and wonderful typewriter in the world. I could type a whole letter and correct it before printing it out!

In 1997, I discovered Listservs. OMG!!! I signed onto a bunch of them and wasted a lot of time. "Talking" to people from all over the world was amazing. I learned a lot. It was fun. There were lot of mean, rude, hateful people lurking about, so I quit with that eventually.

In about 1999 I bought a new computer that ran Windows 98. I was in heaven. It was so easy to use, at least when it wasn't crashing and locking up -- which it did on a daily basis. At that time I was working for a non-profit organization. I built a computer at work out of parts harvested from several computers people had donated. I signed up for free Internet access, free email and found a website hosting service for free. I built a website for the organization and put us online, all for free. The Board of Directors thought I was some kind of genius. I thought I was "all that" too.

In 2002, I convinced my husband to let me get cable Internet access at home. That was another huge eye opener. I had always shied away from sites with a lot of visual content because they took too long to load over a dial-up connection. Cable opened the world to me. DH still bitches about the cost and keeps trying to talk me into getting rid of it. I tell him we could cut down on food or some other non-essential stuff, or, perhaps, he could subscribe to fewer cable TV channels. That usually shuts him up.

In 2003, I bought my first laptop and my boss gave me an old wireless router he no longer needed. I was liberated from the corner of my bedroom and could once more join my family in the living room! At first I drove my husband crazy googling information about TV shows and movies and giving him running commentary of background information on the shows he was watching on TV. He eventually got into it and now will often ask me to look stuff up. Soon thereafter we bought a new desktop for reasons I don't recall. We only use it occasionally. Instead we fight over the laptop. Soon I am going to buy DD her own laptop for graduation. I want another one for me, too, because the new ones have cooler video and faster processors, and build in web cams.......

In addition to the computers we all have cell phones (with cameras), we use text messaging (which I hate but it appears to be the only way to communicate with a teenager), we take digital photos which we upload to the Internet and share electronically (DH hates that; he wants his pictures printed out!).

It is embarrassing to think of how irritated I get when people ask me for my fax number or, worse, my mailing address. My attitude is if you can't e-mail your information to me, I don't want it!! Don't even talk to me about sending outgoing snail mail. I do not communicate with anyone who requires me to buy stamps ... except my mother, and I usually just call her on the phone.

I am astounded (and appalled) when I run across someone in the business world who is not proficient with Microsoft Word or basic e-mail? How can that be in 2008?

Despite all that, I feel as though technology is changing so fast, I can't keep up. For years I have subscribed to IT zines and feeds in order to try to stay abreast. I used to be able to at least understand enough of the jargon to have a general idea of what they were talking about. Not any more. Technospeak might as well be written in Russian. I am falling behind. It scares me because (unlike the people I keep running across who can't operate basic office equipment but still manage to not get fired) my livelihood depends on staying ahead of the curve.

No comments: