Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Slow Embrace of Technology

When I reached middle age (my 40's, that is) without having a computer or a cell phone, I didn’t think of myself as a Luddite but simply someone slow to embrace new technology. One of my professors gave me a lesson in using WordStar in 1986 when I first entered graduate school to work on my MA. At that time, the computers in use by the English department had two 5.25 inch slots, one for the program disk and one for the disk containing one’s documents. All through graduate school, I continued to draft my essays in longhand first and then type up the final copy on my typewriter. Fortunately, my wife in 1989 helped me put my Master’s thesis on the computer so that it would be easier to make corrections. It took a few frustrating incidents before I mastered the use of the Insert key; something so simple could prevent me from losing text when making an addition or a correction.

By 1993, at the age of forty-two, I had my own computer, a 386, although it essentially was only good for WordStar, which by that time required the downloading of information from three or four 5.25 diskettes. Not having the Internet in my home office made it easier to devote attention to my writing. Taking my comprehensive exams for the PhD required that I learn to use Microsoft Word. Even so, I didn’t finally stop using WordStar until 1999 when my new computer at that time wouldn’t take the 5.25 diskettes containing the software for WordStar. Out of necessity, I had to become comfortable with Microsoft Word.

Despite this slow embrace of technology, I have learned much more about computers and word processing software. After getting tired of giving my money to computer repair people for minor upgrades and virus removal, I resolved about eight years to learn much more about computers and computer repair.

Accepting technology into my life hasn’t included a cell phone until more recently, however. I didn’t get my first cell phone until about 2001 when my wife insisted that I get one in case of an emergency during the lengthy commute to where I was teaching at the time.

About twenty-two years ago, when we briefly sold water treatment systems during a semester we didn’t get a teaching assignment, my wife and I used to admire the guy who had a phone in his car because it allowed him to get his assignments much quicker and to get directions when he couldn’t find the house where he was scheduled to make his sales pitch. We were forced to return to an area convenience store and to use the pay phone as we arranged our next appointment. Our time selling water treatment systems didn’t last. We sold two units but only got paid for one because the other buyer refused to disclose his regular income when the company wanted the buyer to sign a contract and to set up monthly payments. That $800 earned in commission, while not enough compensation for the time that we had invested in our training, helped to ease our poverty for a little while. The remainder of that semester was spent working temporary employment. We ended up moving to the Kansas City area during the following summer.

That Motorola 120C, my first cell phone, remained in use even after four or five years. I had no reason to update since I seldom used it and actually prefer not to use a phone because of my phone phobia, aka telephobia. I don’t know when I would have updated if Tracfone had not informed me that they would no longer service that phone in my area and sent me a replacement Nokia 1100 free of charge. Once again, that phone lasted several years until I replaced it with a Samsung T105G, which made it easier to send text messages even though it, too, didn’t have all of the features of a regular keyboard and made long messages difficult because of its inflexibility.

When we stopped paying for a landline last year, my wife bought a LG 500G as the house phone. After growing familiar with that phone from texting during those occasions when my wife drove, I discovered that it was possible to get my own LG 500G for $10. I can now say that I am much happier with my phone and use it frequently for texting when away from the house. I don’t think I have made an actual phone call in the month that I have been using this phone, however. This phone can be used as a mp3 player if one doesn’t mind using earbuds. It also offers a digital camera of something like 1.3 megapixels. These additional features may seem like bonuses although one has to consider the quality of the camera and the sonic capability of its single speaker. Nonetheless, I now more often make an effort to grab my phone when leaving the house instead of misplacing it and letting it go missing for days on end.

Having become more comfortable with a cell phone, I still don’t foresee a day when I will start acting like my relatives. While visiting them on Thanksgiving, and while trying to ignore the football game that was blaring from the television, I often glanced around the room and saw three or four of my relatives looking down at the screens of their iphones—either to play a game, to organize their pictures, or to send someone else one of their pictures. No one was talking. I hope I never will become that obsessed with technology.