Back in 1986, as a junior at Oberlin College, I got a work-study job as the secretary’s assistant in the Chemistry Department. This was a prized position. I would no longer have to to put on a hair net to tend the lunch salad bar at the African Heritage House dining facility. Never again would I be part of the breakfast dish crew at Dascomb dining hall, dipping my frozen-numb fingers into half-drunk cups of warm coffee coming through the clean up line (a common practice for our cleaning crew), while the rich students who didn’t need to work headed off to their glorious job-free days. The breakfast crew was fun, but the work sucked. (Thankful Anthony doesn’t mind doing dishes these days.)
The secretary and the chemistry professors were delightful and kind. They quickly learned that I was a piano performance major, and that I could type about 160 words per minute, and that I could do some basic coding in Pascal and knew how to use WordStar on the library mainframe. They had a Mac – one of the early boxy things – and they encouraged me to learn how to use it. I touched my first mouse, and I experienced the magic of stuff on the screen looking exactly like what would come out on the printer. I became the chem department’s go-to person for putting their exams into a computer document, complete with complicated equations using symbols and greek letters. It was not easy at first, but I got good at it. (Thankful Anthony knows how to word-process his own equations these days.)
In my year off between college and law school, I moved to Silicon Valley and found contract work – back then we called it temping. I quickly landed a long-term temp position at Apple, of all places. I suspect they chose me because I actually knew how to use a mouse. I learned about Apple and its products, and I got my own Mac. Having a mouse made me pretty cutting edge. And I made FOURTEEN DOLLARS AND HOUR! In 1988, that was pretty darn amazing. I don’t know if I could find a job in 2020 that pays me that well. (Thankful I don’t have to job hunt right now.)
Decades have passed since then, and it has been all downhill on the tech front. I am officially that middle-aged person who really hasn’t moved forward with technology. I mean, I know how to use WordPress at some basic level, but look at this blog. It’s not a site; it’s shite. (Thankful I’m not trying to make a living by blogging.)
The sad thing is, I’m trying to have a new webpage created for an organization I’m involved with, and the poor friend who agreed to help me (aka, to actually do it) may be getting wise to my incompetence and technology-terror. I hope he’ll bear with me. (Thankful for friends who put up with me.)
Fortunately, I don’t need to be tech savvy to use a lot of 21st century tech. I love my iPhone, which has become a binky filled with my contacts, calendars, casual games, shopping apps, photos, music, audiobooks… and instant access to a veritable universe of information. I love Zoom, which allowed us to see our extended family on Thanksgiving. I love my integrated Apple products, even if they do all go off when someone calls — my Macbook laptop, my phone, my iMac, and an iPad mini ding-a-linging madly all over the house, like the imagined cacaphony of a clockmaker’s shop on every hour. It’s occasionally unnerving, but I’ve mostly grown used to it. I love that I can break or lose one Apple device, and my entire life’s worth is still available to me on all the other devices. I love our Roku box, which magically allows us to stream just about anything we want without watching ads. I love my fitbit watch, which gives me my heart rate and uses GPS to map my routes and distances when I exercise. I love our electric car, with a winter range of less than 100 miles, because anyway, who needs to drive any further than that during winter in Wisconsin?
In this pandemic year, all this technology that people rail at intermittently — with various claims that it destroys our lives and brains and relationships — seems to be pretty critical to keeping things going, from jobs to school to shopping to relationships to a lot of things in between. (Thankful my kids’ schools have gone mostly virtual.)
Oh! speaking of destroying brains. Anthony announced yesterday that his fitbit literally recorded him as being asleep a couple nights ago, when we know he was awake because he was sitting next to me watching a movie. I think there’s something delightfully meta about one piece of tech declaring that a different piece of tech has put Anthony to sleep.
Anyway, I know I’m selling my information soul to a bunch of tech devils all over the world, but I’ve plugged my nose and jumped head first into this stuff. I may not know how to use modern technology and software in any sophisticated way, but that’s okay. I’m grateful that Big Tech has dumbed it all down enough that even a fool like me can get a lot out of it.