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After computer, changes kept coming

It’s kind of hard to explain, but about a dozen years back, I finally felt what it’s like to get older. I’m not talking about the “Oh, my achin’ back,” kind of older. I’m talking about progress. I’m talking about the perspective you get only by inhabiting the planet for a certain number of years. I was born in 1960: The Beatles hadn’t yet jumped the pond, and more women than just the girls in the B-52s wore beehive hairdos. There was plenty of progress in my childhood but nothing like the extremes I thought my grandparents and parents lived through. When I was a little girl, my grandpa, who was born in 1900 in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), told me about driving a Model T from the Midwest to San Diego on a one-lane, wooden boardwalk road. That’s the kind of extreme I was looking for – from a little wood road to the interstate! Talk about progress!My dad was born in the midst of the Roaring ’20s. When he’d talk about his childhood, I’d immediately think of flappers and kids playing stickball in the street. My mom was raised in Los Angeles. She said it was beautiful then, with clear blue skies and ocean breezes. Growing up, she’d take the cable cars all over the valley before their tracks were ripped up and replaced by freeways and smog. I couldn’t imagine. But what had happened in my life? Not much. Sure, NASA was continually blasting astronauts – chimpanzee and human – into the stratosphere, but I was longing for the changes my elders kept talking about: the invention of the car or the emergence of commercial flight. Stuff like that. Stuff we could use. Stuff that was part of daily life.In contrast, in the ’60s and ’70s, I didn’t see much difference. Cars looked pretty much the same, albeit sleeker, morphing from the chrome and metal ’50s muscle cars to T-birds and Mustangs. But a typewriter was still a typewriter. My parents’ hi-fi played their Sinatra records just as well as my sister’s and my favorite record of the minute, from “Mary Poppins” when we were kids to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Dj vu” when we got a little older. All that seemed to change, though, during my college career – a long career, I might add, that took me eight years to complete and forced my father to question, “So, you’ve got your Ph.D. now, right?” “No, Dad,” I’d answer. “Just the B.A. But I learned a lot!”What happened during those years was the emergence of the computer – something we could use. I started off college typing papers into the dawn’s early light on a little electric typewriter – if you’ve done this, you know what agony that can be when, as you’re typing away, you decide to change a sentence on page three that’s going to make the paper so much better, only to have to re-type everything following the change. But by the time I was about to graduate, I was a teaching assistant in the English department’s computer-assisted writing lab, overseeing 60 students at a time as they plinked out missives on gargantuan, now fully archaic, IBMs. After the computer, the changes just kept coming, and now it seems every time you look around, something’s different. Palm Pilots have replaced calendars, skis are short and shaped, and minivans come equipped with video players to keep the kids hypnotized on road trips. (What ever happened to, “Look out the window if you’re bored!” or “Let’s play `I Spy'” for the nine billionth time!”) I don’t even really know what a Play Station is, but I know it’s a major part of existence to a lot of kids.Last Christmas, I went to a local elementary school and asked the children what they hoped Santa would bring them. The resounding answer? “A cell phone!” A cell phone, indeed.


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