Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lurching into the modern world


By JOELLEN COLLINS

I admire how so many of the young people I tutor, teach or work with in a variety of ways have naturally embraced the rapidly escalating world of technology. The explosion of knowledge they face is daunting to me. It is hard to imagine that there were no laptops or copy machines available when I went to college. I never learned to type correctly, so term papers were a nightmare of hunt and peck, white-out and retyping. When I taught English in those relatively primitive days, the production of material for my students on the old, blue ditto-paper and mimeograph machine was a horrid and time-consuming task.

During my time in the Peace Corps, there were no cell phones or Internet cafes for me to keep in touch with my friends and family. Packets of small, blue airmail letter packets and audio tapes in a box in my closet attest to that. Thus I certainly appreciate the conveniences of contemporary communication. Even in Africa last summer, I was amazed at the uses of cell phones and realized that our work at the orphanage would have been much harder without that means of connecting with each other.

I certainly have adapted to many aspects of a world of technology I never imagined I would learn to use. Nonetheless, this fabulous world of instant contact is still bewildering to me. I admit to editing hard copies; I learned to find mistakes on paper and to reinforce my thoughts by the use of tactile senses. I can't "see" the mistakes on a computer monitor. I still get a thrill out of a really good pen and almost miss the plethora of yellow legal tablets I used to have with my scribblings (those pages often had stapled pieces of new thoughts in the old tradition of cut and paste). I find myself increasingly dependent on my computer and on the new ways to use it. A few years ago I copied all of my writing on floppy discs but then found out later that most could not be transferred. Today I have a jump drive and other means of backing up my work, though I still fear the expense and confusion when I will inevitably have to replace this laptop.

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Just when I am learning how to use Facebook to contact friends and even play Scrabble with my cousins, I realize that I need to learn its further uses to promote my novel. I think many hours are ahead of me in this quest. Through this medium I did hear from a young woman I met in Italy when I lived there a few years ago. She is Turkish and, amazingly, a best-selling author in her country, and we have re-established our friendship after a time of frustration as I tried in vain to send letters to the address she had given me. Now friends tell me I should have a blog, that I should Twitter and that I am not using my Web site correctly to get fuller exposure on Google. I just don't know where to begin.

Don't even ask me about cell phones and all one can do with them! I still haven't taken the time to program in my frequently called numbers. Blackberrys confound me. And television? Just when I thought I had been smart to copy PBS mysteries on VCR tapes, those tapes are now obsolete, as is the player gathering dust under my second television. Now that I have a DVD player, I await its obsolescence and the necessity of adapters for Blu-ray!

My students would laugh if they could see the jerry-rigged TV I have in my bedroom. My fairly new condo features cable outlets in a space above the fireplace designed to hold a flat screen TV. I don't have the time or money to fit a TV in there and thought I didn't want one in my bedroom anyway. However, when I had surgery and a bit of time to recuperate, my kids brought me a temporary small TV to watch while I healed. A year and a half later it still resides on my dresser with an unsightly white cable cord winding around behind a rocking chair and up to the recessed cable connections. That's how much of a techie I am!

While I'm pondering my dilemma, perhaps I can convince some third-grader to help me manage my Web site or market my book. Heaven knows he would be more skilled at the task than I.






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