Thursday, February 23, 2006

Hello Internet, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Computer

I'm a technophobe. After my entry about my AR turntable and Shure cartridge, it might not seem like that, but I am. I resist new technology for as long as possible, because it's always the same: at first, I have no confidence that I'll ever be able to master it. However, if I manage to overcome that, I embrace it completely. There ought to be a word for that, for those of us who start out as technophobes only to become technophiles, and maybe there is, but if so, I don't know it...

I was like that with computers. Anthony, my ex, is all about computers and technology, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. A lawyer, he had an elaborate word-processor in his office long before most people had a clue about word processing, and as soon as they became available, we had a Commodore (remember those?) at home...but just because Anthony was computer literate didn't mean I was.

I had an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter that I loved, and I could type about 90 wpm, so I saw no need to suffer the discomfort of becoming acquainted with a whole new form of technology like computers. That all changed when I was accepted into graduate school. It was late afternoon, and I was sitting in the office of the Professor who would eventually become my thesis advisor. He bore an eerie resemblance to Star Trek's Patrick Stewart, and I was in his office to be officially accepted into the psychology program to which I'd applied. I was happy, but we were at the end of the interview and I was also tired and just wanted to go home. As I stood up to leave, he said, "You ARE computer literate?" "Um, not exactly, errrrrr, is that a requirement...???" He smiled cheerfully, VERY Patrick Stewart, and said, "Yes, it is! Well. You have 3 weeks!"

Aaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh! Why had I even applied to grad school? I went home and made a couple of phone calls and voila...for better or worse (and it felt like worse) I was signed up at a local community college for an intense 3-week course that ran from 4 AM to 9 AM (those hours are SO not me) 4 days a week for the next 3 weeks. It was grim, but by the time my grad school classes began, I was able to use a computer, in a rudimentary sort of way. I couldn't imagine that I was ever going to enjoy it, though.

Time passed, and I became more comfortable using a computer. One night my oldest daughter, Alex, discovered a search engine that gave not only addresses and phone numbers for names entered, but detailed street maps showing where people lived. This was pre-Google, and before internet stalking had become a problem. We were amazed, and put in the names of everyone we could think of, including ourselves, thrilled when we saw addresses, phone numbers and maps appear on the screen. The novelty wore off quickly though; we knew all those phone numbers, addresses, and cross streets already. "Can't you think of anyone with whom you've lost contact?" Alex asked in exasperation. I thought for a bit, and then typed in the name of G, my first love. He has an unusual last name, and I'd lost track of him in the '70's, but suddenly, there was his name, address, phone number, and map of the area around his house, in northern Illinois, on my computer screen. Wow. Luckily for him, I'm not a stalker. I copied the info into my address book, and cleared the screen and forgot about it, and Alex and I signed off and played scrabble.

That was that, until I realized G's 50th birthday was coming up. I bought a blank card. Inside I wrote something to the effect of, "I've always been glad that I met you, and that you were a part of my life. I hope this finds you well and happy. Happy 50th birthday." I sent it to the address we'd found using the search engine. About a week later, I received a reply from G, via snail mail, asking if I had e-mail and suggesting we use e-mail to catch up on each other's lives.

There's nothing like having an incentive to get comfortable with new technology! Katharine showed me how to set up an e-mail account, and then I learned how to send, receive and check my e-mail; learning about attachments took another entire evening. One afternoon, I received an e-mail from G asking if I'd like to chat with him on the net. He explained that he frequented a chatroom where we could effectively talk in real time, via our keyboards. He added, as an afterthought, "It's adult chat, but we're old enough, right?" I had no idea what adult chat was. I thought maybe people engaged in a little scatological humor from time to time. It was fine with me!

That evening, I went onto my computer. I cut and pasted the address he'd sent me into the address bar of my browser, and in a moment, a yellow page appeared on my monitor. I chose a nickname, typed it into a box, and suddenly I was transported into a room with a dozen other people. This was early net. I didn't have MIRC or PIRCH installed on my computer, nor was I even aware of their existence. I was in the room via a java applet. The people in that room were a lively and bawdy bunch, and I liked it immediately. It's hard to describe the magic that was there, but everyone had a persona, and the exchanges were fast and hilarious; sometimes I'd sit at my computer laughing so hard that tears streamed down my cheeks.

To be continued...


Shelly said...

I love reading stories like this. It's nice to remember there are others like me who didn't grow up with computers.

I took a computer math class (Yes, that's what it was called) in high school in 1969. We programmed what looked like calculators on steroids. When I was in college, studying psych as an undergrad in the early '70s, I took Fortran. I learned to keypunch cards!

I got my first PC, an IBM (never did have a Commodore) in 1985 from my hubby-to-be in lieu of an engagement ring. I got online at the end of 1995 when I finally had a PC with enough RAM to run AOL.

I, too, feared I'd never get comfortable and learn what I needed to know, but I did, and that gave me the confidence to try new software and websites. I don't know everything I could know, but I know more than enough. :)

dreaminglily said...

lol Oh I'm so staying tuned for the rest of this one... And trust me, my mom is worse lol She still gets lost writing emails lol


Celeste said...

Love it! Can't wait to hear the rest! ;) C.

Tammy said...

It took me some time, but I got the hang of it. IMing was too fast for me, but I still managed to meet my husband online. I love paying my bill's online too! I purchase online quite a bit living in the country, but I still worry about ID theft.

Can't wait for the rest!


Melissa said...

Oh, Judi, I'm dying here, please finish this story!!!

Onemoretina said...

I could certainly relate to this entry. I was drug, kicking and screaming, into the world of computers. I had NO desire to learn to use one, and my husband and kids told me that in this day and age, it was like being illiterate. So .... I took a class, sure that I would hate it. And now it seems that I can't drag myself away from the darned thing. Who woulda thunk it ? Tina

Katharine said...

More proof that we could never get along if we were stranded on an island together ("Look mom! a radio, we can call for help." "No, Katharine step back, that may eat you. Let's just look at how it glimmers in the sunlight, hey look a coconut, thirsty?"...
I am the person at my work dragging everyone kicking and screaming, throwing them cold heartedly through the door of technology, threatening to remove fingers and break the coffee machine if they ever use a fax again to send information to and from one another. I make Excel sheets that have made people cry, but are really user friendly.

It's not like people were this attached to horses when cars came about. Why can't it be like airplanes when they were new? Everyone getting dressed up and on their best behavior for this luxury of modern technology. No, instead we sit and look at it like a wet dog sitting on our carpet... lovingly yet a little resentful at all the work and upkeep it takes.

I love you mom, and am always glad to help patch up those finger nail marks you left on the wall when we brought you kicking and screaming into this century.

emmapeelDallas said...

...and this from the kid who put a slice of bread into our original VCR, hoping to toast it - you've come a long way, baby!


odie said...

How about technophobophile?

I'm still not up to speed with things that most people have been doing for years, but I'm way ahead of most of the people I work with.

Looking forward to the rest of the story.