Technology: it means I don’t miss…

Word processing allows me to write this blog every day, even though I am a no better typist than I was 25 or 40 years ago.

InformationTechnologyJaquandor waxes philosophic:

Lots of folks often wax poetic about things we’ve lost in our more technological age, like record stores and big, high-service department stores that take up entire city blocks, but what’s something that we’ve ditched in our techno-era that makes you think, “Yeah, I’m glad we don’t do THAT anymore”?

It occurred to me that I’ve seldom described what it was that I have been doing for a living for the past 22 years. The methodology has changed tremendously, and it’s all about the technology.

The New York Small Business Development Center, which started in 1984, now has 24 centers across the state. The business counselors offer free and confidential one-on-one advisement to budding entrepreneurs and established small businesses alike. Since many of the counselors have been entrepreneurs or have worked in banks or other lending institutions, they know a lot of stuff about the business process.

For the things they DON’T know, the counselors contact the Research Network library, which has librarians with access to databases, and even – dare I say it? – books.

In the early days, we’d print out the research from the databases on something called paper. We’d Xerox pages from books. Then we’d put the information in the mail to the counselor. If for some reason, the package was lost, we’d have to do it over. The search would be in our computers, but we’d still have to reprint. And the copying had to be done over.

Let’s talk about the databases. They were on something called CD-ROM discs. We had two dedicated CD-ROM machines, but if I wanted to use the ProQuest database, and someone else was already using it, I had to wait until she or he was finished.

One of the first major improvements in the operation was the implementation of a LAN, or local area network, where we could ALL access the CD-ROMs at the same time, from our own computers, without having to go to the dedicated machine AND we could use a database even of someone else was using it!

As counselors started getting e-mail, we started to save the information and send some of it electronically. This was not as smooth a transition as one might think. For one thing, as mentioned by, the capacity of some of the e-mail servers in the late 1990s could be quite limited. Sending all the information we found could mean either having it bounce back to us, or clog things up on the recipient’s end.

Now, we package the data in an Adobe format. It sits on our server, and the counselors get an e-mail notification that the data are there, through a system called WebMQS, which usually works well. It DOES require the recipient to have the latest free Adobe software. Now, if someone hasn’t received the information, the re-sending now takes 5 minutes rather than 50 or more.

At home, my favorite pairing of technologies is the answering machine and caller ID. I hear, or see on the TV, that it’s a call from 800 Service, which the answering machine announces as “eight-zero-zero shervice” – our machine voice has a lisp! and we are oddly entertained by this – we can freely ignore it. But a familiar cell phone number or a call identified from someone known to us, we’ll pick up.

But the #1 favorite technological change I appreciate has to be the word processor, which allows one to correct errors things easily, rather than backspace on the IBM Selectric typewriter to use that tape which vaguely blots out the typos. No more Wite-Out, either.

When I was writing my last paper for library school in 1992, I had arranged the topics 1a, 2a, 3a, 1b, 2b, 3b, 1c, 2c, 3c. But as I continued, I realized it should have been 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c. I did a massive cut and paste, but it was WAY easier than retyping 46 pages.

And, of course, the same technology allows me to write this blog every day, even though I am no better typist than I was 25 or 40 years ago. Because if I had to do write this all longhand, and then type it in a manner that was readable and accurate, this MIGHT be a monthly blog, rather than a daily one.

A quick musing, though on one thing I DO miss as a result of technology: keeping score in bowling. The software won’t let you, and occasionally, it’s just wrong in terms of counting the remaining pins.

Technology is my friend, or a fiend

We could have a whole bunch of Thomas Paines out there, speaking truth to power.

Chris from Off the Shore of Orion, whose been off her blog, but on other social media, wonders:
What piece of technology would you hate the most to lose? Which piece of technology do you wish would just disappear?

The former is quite easy; the latter, not so much.

I am a lousy typist. I used to use tons of Wite-Out and those weird little strips that would take up a letter from the already-typed page. But it was tedious and exhausting. Clearly, my favorite technology that has been developed in my lifetime is the word processor. It has made the creative process INCREDIBLY easier. Oops, I typed an n when I meant an m; no problem. Backspace and correct.

I remember having this Sears typewriter back in the 1980s that had about a page worth of memory, so you could write before it typed about a line of text, and there was this narrow screen on it, so you could see a little bit of what you had written. It was an improvement, but not like the chance to view, save, and change a large document.

If I were dependent on the old technology, I wouldn’t be a librarian, for I would still be working on my graduate school paper from 20 years ago, which ran about 50 pages long (and wasn’t very good). When I first composed it, the sections were structured 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 3c. But once the first draft was completed, I realized I had it all wrong; it should have been arranged 1a, 2a, 3a, 1b, 2b, 3b, 1c, 2c, 3c. So I cut and pasted over 2/3s of the document. If I had had to RETYPE it…

I don’t know what kind of typist Jaquandor is, but I’m sure that he is appreciating editing the text of his book or two, including Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title), on a word processor, rather than retyping every draft. BTW, I think is rather awesome that he’s doing that. You should read what he says about writing, with a wife and a kid and a job, in response to this column, which I sent him.

And of course, the word processing mode eventually made this whole blogging thing possible, which means, theoretically, that we could have a whole bunch of Thomas Paines out there, speaking truth to power. We don’t, of course, and people write all sorts of garbage, but that’s not the fault of the technology.

This is why I get extremely nervous about those sneaky draconian bills such as ACTA, designed presumably to protect against copyright infringement, but which would have a chilling effect on free speech.

On the other side of the original question, it’s more difficult to say. I could pick getting rid of the drones we fire into Pakistan. But the technology itself is neutral; a similar methodology might be used to blow up that asteroid that’s going to hit the planet, or to play video games.

The same technology that might infect thousands of people with some terrible virus might also be used to save them.

Somewhat off-topic, but Mark McGuire noted that “Facebook announced it has hit one billion users. Do you think you will still be using FB in 5 years? What social media platform do you think you will be using the most by then?” My answer is that I haven’t a clue. I didn’t know, 10 years ago, I’d be blogging; three years ago, I ignored Facebook altogether. I might have said three years ago, Twitter was pointless (I didn’t, but I could have), yet here I am tweeting daily, mostly things that I blog, to be sure. And I would not have thought you could so easily link them.

I WILL say that planned obsolescence is a terrible trait in manufacturing, but that’s more a methodology than a technology.

Oh, you know what technology I wish would disappear? The eight-track. A stupid technology that would make a lot of noise in the middle of a song. That’s something that should go. Wait: it did. Lots of bad technology goes away on its own.

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