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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Technology Life We Lead

If you had told me at 18 that technology would be an ever-expanding, not to mention crucial, part of my life over the next 35 to 40 years, I probably would have lumped you in with all those loonies who thought they heard "Paul is dead" backwards on some Beatles album.   At 18, "technology" was a term reserved solely for history class, evoking images of cavemen and tools.

In retrospect, my first battle with technology was waged as the 17-year-old co-editor of my high school newspaper.  We produced the paper using machines that had clearly been manufactured during the Jurassic era, including the Varityper Headliner (see photo).  This particular machine was bigger than our washing machine at home and came with tire-sized font reels you turned manually to "write" headlines that were then kicked out on photographic paper and slapped onto copy boards with rubber cement.  This machine's counterpart was the two-headed monster we used to produce justified copy: You typed on one machine, which produced a ticker tape that you then threaded (or tried to thread) into the other machine, which produced copy on white paper that you also rubber-cemented onto copy boards. Painstakingly.

It was barbaric.  But it was also precise. To this day, I cannot see an extra space in a newspaper article - or a painting that's not straight on a wall, or a headline that's not centered perfectly, or a book that's not lined up with others on a shelf - without fixing it.  It drives my co-workers nuts.  Drives me nuts too.

Over the next ten years or so, I used a variety of ever-advancing photo-typesetting technologies and, eventually, even computers.  Then one day, in my first professional position as an editor of warehouse inspection reports, I received my first email.  It was 1986, and while most companies were still on mainframes, my little company (50 employees) had moved us all to networked PCs.  Most of my work for them was still done by hand, in notebooks, and our typists still used memory typewriters, but I did love using that first PC.  So one day, out of the blue, a box popped up on my screen and there was a message in it from our IT guy.  He used me as his guinea pig because we had talked about what email was and because he figured I wouldn't start screaming about ghosts in the machine when it happened.  I remember smiling and thinking, wow, this is cool, as I hesitantly typed out a reply.  (And the rest is history...)

I left the workforce to have babies at about the time PCs were becoming the standard in many offices (1990).  My husband at the time was learning DOS and "hypertext" and spending a lot of time in "news groups" (none of which I understood) while I was going to playgroups and changing diapers. By the time I re-entered the workforce, Windows95 had been introduced, so I managed to skip the whole DOS period. I "learned computers" in a Windows environment, so by 1997 or so, I knew more about Windows than my computer-expert husband, who had to relearn everything (yes, there was that much of a difference).  When I wasn't looking, he would close Windows on our home PC and open DOS because it was easier for him (true story).  And if you think DOS is easier than Windows, I have a bridge I can sell you...

Today, when one discusses technology, you're more likely to be talking about phones and tablets and apps than PCs or fonts, and does anyone even know where you can buy rubber cement anymore?  (Actually, I bought some about a year ago for a poster project, so indeed it is still available.)

I used to marvel that my great-grandmother, who was born in the 1880s and lived until the late 1970s (97 years), had witnessed so much change in her lifetime. She was alive for the Wright Brothers' first flight tests and lived until the first space shuttle was under construction.  I imagine that some day my own great grandchildren may marvel at the changes I have witnessed.  From rotary dial phones and black and white televisions with antennae to full-length movies on my hand-held computer (phone) and who knows what next.  Teleportation, anyone? 


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  2. Hey Beth, are you able to meet for coffee in the next week? I'm volunteering with PRSA St. Louis under the direction of Tressa, and would like to connect.