Friday, January 23, 2009

Feeling old

My first introduction to computers was in elementary school in 1983. Three shiny new Apple IIe's were available to a select group of handpicked students for a half hour each day. I was one of those lucky few. Despite their modest teacher's salaries, my parents had the foresight to buy one of these precious machines for our home as well. Complete with a daisy wheel printer, I used that workhorse through high school.

Unfortunately the Apple IIe was too big and cumbersome to take with me to college. So I managed just fine with an electric typewriter. Fellow students often begged to borrow my fancy schmancy typewriter which shows you just how few options there were. A computer lab had just popped up in a dorm basement. But since the internet didn't exist, computers were primarily word processing tools. And with so few computers available in the lab, you couldn't hog a machine for the length of time needed to write a paper. So really, what was the point?

At my first job, I graduated to a laptop and Lotus 1-2-3 software. I don't think we had a mouse as we used keystroke codes for opening files and formatting and such. (Anyone remember /-File-Retrieve?) EVERYTHING was done in a spreadsheet from cover letters to business plans. The internet still didn't exist nor did e-mail so we ran from floor to floor with 3.5" disks to transfer information. The only reason we needed the laptop was to upload files from a particular software program into the one centralized docking station in the building.

When I found out my next company had Excel, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Not to mention that a year after I started, we also got e-mail. Of course, only within the company so documents to external folks still required heavy use of fax machines. One of our primary software programs came with a 3" binder of codes as push button shortcuts didn't exist. This was also my first experience at travelling with a laptop. Of course it stayed in my hotel room during the day. I would go from place to place writing down information on paper and then transferring into the computer in the evenings.

In 1999, I came to my current company and a whole new world opened up. We had laptops, e-mail, color monitors, the INTERNET! My fax usage dropped from several times a day to a few times a year. Now I am completely addicted to my Crackberry Blackberry and am never more than a keystroke away from the internet.

Why do I take you on this trip down memory lane? Certainly not to date myself. It's hard to believe this evolution only spans the last 25 years. No, this diatribe was spurred by a group of MIT students who have taken over a conference room in my building for a project. While that in itself is a little strange, I can't help but notice a larger change in the conference room as I walk by. This conference room has become a veritable sea of laptops. And that made me pause to think.

Though my company is current with technology, you rarely see a single laptop in a meeting unless someone is giving a presentation. Notes are still taken by hand on pen and paper. Group discussions are first written on white boards and flip charts and later transcribed into a computer. It's certainly not the most efficient process but oddly, no one seems to question it.

Which makes me wonder: when will we begin to question it?
College students today bring their laptops to every class. Unlike me, they grew up with computers. They live on the internet. Their primary communication vehicles are digital. As this generation of graduates enters the workforce, will they conform to our pad-and-paper-ways or will we conform to theirs?
So what I'm really trying to say is...I feel old.


Megan January 23, 2009 at 4:20 PM  

As a consultant, I often took my laptop with me into meetings and took notes that way. And now I can't even write more than a few sentences without my hand cramping up. Plus I can type so much faster than I can write. I wonder when kids aren't even going to learn to write in cursive anymore. Will I be the old lady who is insisting that it's a skill all children need to have?

traci fuller January 23, 2009 at 6:04 PM  

I remember those old Apple's! I loved the 'Lemonade Stand' business building game! Anyone else play that one?

Mindy January 23, 2009 at 6:08 PM  

I'm on your time frame as well (remember playing Oregon Trail on those Apples?) and it is really interesting to be in education right now. Middle schoolers can bring laptops to school. I feel fortunate that I am technically inclined enough to encourage and use technology in my classroom, but there are teachers who really struggle to meet the needs of students in regards to technology. We are NOT old, but rather lucky to remember a time when it was different!

krissykeelan January 23, 2009 at 10:01 PM  

I remember Oregon trail on those old apple's too.
An observation Leo made after Christmas when my mom and sister were here visiting was hilarious, but sickening as we all live on our computers today. My sister is in college, she brought her laptop with her during the trip (we always bring ours everywhere too). Every evening Leo would be on the home computer, I was on the laptop, and my sister on her laptop, and then there would be my mom reading a book (you know...those things we used to have to hold in your hands and read out of, and turn pages). Now you can do it all online. In a few years we're not even going to have magazines and newspapers anymore, just a file to put on your phone or computer. Crazy stuff!
We have to adapt or be left behind. It's silly to take notes with pen and paper and later input that into your computer instead of utilizing a laptop and only do the work once.

Heather January 23, 2009 at 11:06 PM  

We totally had the tiny bank of Apple IIe computers in our elementary school. And I can remember doing email on PINE in college. Heh.

I worked as an assistant to a professor for awhile and already the students were insisting on class materials being made available online so they could download them to their laptops. Then they used the laptops to surf the web instead of paying attention to the lecture. Drove me nuts.

The Tucson Gang January 24, 2009 at 8:14 AM  

Ahhh..the lemonade stand...and there anything better?!? haha. I was just reminescing the other day w/2 new hires about how when I started at my current company in 1999, we all had computers and email, but the internet was ONLY allowed by certain had to request permission, state many reasons why you NEEDED the internet, etc. And, before that...when I was teaching there was a computer lab where students used the computers once a week, but no computer in the classroom...not even a phone for that matter. And then in 1997, 2 years before I stopped teaching, the teachers got phones and a computer...and I believe email. I really feel old when I think of those times. And yes, Lori my electric typewritter was covetted by many in my dorm! :-) Ahhh, the good ole' days! :-) hehe AND - do you even want to start talking about cell phones?!? How on earth did we communicate w/our families, let alone our friends with just one home phone and no answering machine?!!?

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