Like many of us, I use technology so much that I barely notice it. I sit at my computer for hours each day noodling around with novel revisions, blog entries, freelance articles, and it all seems quite unremarkable.
Then every so often something makes me remember how new this all is.
Recently it was holiday photos. Snapfish had a 30 percent discount if you ordered holiday cards by Oct. 31st, so I corralled Sam, Becca and the cat for the annual picture.
When Becca was a baby, I still had to take rolls of film into the photo store to be developed. I’d wait several days to get the pictures back, choose the best one, and return to the photo store to order the cards.
Now we use our digital camera and see the results immediately. This year Becca even photoshopped our favorite picture to remove wrinkles, blemishes, shadows and gray hair! (An unexpected benefit to having an artsy teen – we will look younger every year, a la The Holiday Card of Dorian Gray.) I uploaded the photo, clicked through a bunch of card options to find one without any crosses, mangers, trees, ornaments or red-and-green… and that was that.
It’s only been 12 or 15 years, but the old process of slogging back and forth to the photo store seems like ancient history.
That started me thinking about other technological changes in my lifetime.
If you were chronicling your life for archeologists from the year 3000, what would you remember about new technologies? Do you recall a specific time, place, circumstance when they appeared in your life?
ATMs. I started college in 1976, just about the time that ATMs were introduced. I remember going to the BayBank branch in Harvard Square to open my first-ever checking account, and getting a plastic card that I could use to get money. Wow! My parents never got money with a card. It felt very cutting edge.
COMPUTERS. I used electric typewriters all through college; computers were still huge boxes off in the science building. After I graduated in 1980, I worked for a while as a clerical temp where I was thrilled to be able to use IBM Selectrics. The height of luxury, I thought, would be to have a Selectric at home for personal use.
I think I first ran into word processing machines when I was temping; I vaguely remember being awed by a machine at one company that had a screen that showed REAL WRITING with ACTUAL FONTS rather than bunches of little electronic dots. (My first glimpse of a graphical user interface?)
The first time I used a desktop computer for writing was when I was living in Jerusalem in 1984-5 and writing a novel. My Israeli friend Ivonne, a graduate student, had a very early pre-Macintosh Apple. I would hand-write pages at my apartment, and then go over to her house to type them onto a floppy disk. When I returned to the U.S. for journalism school in 1985, I bought a PC (“Leading Edge” brand with its own proprietary word processing program!) and paid to have the files transferred from Apple to PC format.
During my first reporting internship at the Waterbury Republican in 1986, we filed stories from the field on Radio Shack TRS-80 computers – warhorses that would have probably survived a drop from the Empire State Building. They had displays that showed about two lines of type – the equivalent of a Tweet! – and rubber cups that you attached to a pay phone in order to transmit your text. I suspect any boomer-age newspaper reporter reading this blog remembers them.
EMAIL. When we were starting to organize the Julia Morgan School for Girls in 1996, email was still relatively new. We had long, earnest discussions about whether it was equitable to send messages to parents by email – would we be excluding families without the means to buy a computer? Today those discussions seem quaint. The school hasn’t sent out a paper newsletter for years; everyone reads it on the web site.
Those were just the first personal takes on tech history that popped into my head. It’s interesting how we date historical events — whether technological change, moon landings, or political events — by remembering where we were and what we were doing at that moment.
How about you — any moments in your life that are linked to the arrival of a new technology?
Some things, of course, remain the same despite any and all technological changes. When I was little, my parents took Instamatic holiday photos of the three of us kids and the cat. The cat invariably was half out of the picture, squirming and clawing to get back under the bed where life was sane and normal.
If you look at our 2010 holiday photo at the top of this blog post, Bowie doesn’t seem much happier.
I guess you could photoshop some kind of Zen-relaxation-expression onto a cat. Or you could photoshop in the entire cat.
I can envision the PETA-friendly disclaimer: “No real cats were annoyed or even slightly inconvenienced in the making of this greeting card.”
But somehow the holiday photo experience just wouldn’t feel the same.