Saturday, May 3, 2008

Technology is amazing

Back in the early 70s, I was learning to program with a computer language called RPG2, I think. It's probably a dead language now. We used it to write programs for a computer that ran on punched cards and probably had less computing capacity than most calculators today.

I had been hired by a steel mill as a keypuncher--equivalent to a data entry clerk. I hated keypunching, but it was a skill I'd picked up, and I was desperate for a job. Running the computer and writing little programs for my friend in the bookkeeping department was fun. Then we had a management shift, and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not to do any programming, not to so much as discuss programming with anyone, even after hours, and was to sit at that keypunch eight hours a day like a good little robot. So I shifted positions as soon as I could, and wound up being a reinforcing steel detailer for about thirty years. I had a couple of other opportunities over the years to get back into working with computers, but there was always a good reason to do something else. I did finally have to learn CAD (computer assisted drafting) but never got back to programming.

So I'm not a total Luddite, but not a techie either. PCs and the Internet just blow me away. I've been a science fiction fan most of my life, but the modern computers available to the average person can do things I never even dreamed of in my younger years.

Now I find myself having an almost-daily slow-moving conversation with my oldest son's fiance in China, via email. I've already met her face-to-face on Skype, but the time difference is an issue. I can exchange pictures with my daughter in Alaska, participate in a couple of international writing workshops, and even keep in touch with an eighty-year-old cousin without waiting on the post office. I can research almost any subject (keeping in mind that some sources are unreliable). I can send manuscripts to my publisher instantly via email (but I still have to wait forever for a response) or print out labels with postage to send packages by "snail mail." I can put together professional-looking little books for my grandchildren.

Of course, the techno-savvy do far more than I do, but I don't expect to catch up with my grandkids, for instance. You can teach an old dog new tricks, but the learning curve's a bit longer, and I'm content with my level of participation in the information age. My current project is to persuade my youngest son to become a computer repairman, so he can keep my computer in good shape:-)

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