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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Life with keyboards
October 12, 2011 - 3:58am

My six-year-old is too young to understand the impact Steve Jobs will have on her life. However, she unintentionally paid homage to him this past week with a special craft project of her own design and execution. With duct tape, scissors, and markers, she turned an old cardboard box into a laptop computer, complete with keyboard, touchpad, mouse, and Apple logo (in the appropriate orientation on the screen, of course). She and her friend decorated cardboard mouse pads and played computer store in our den. Computers are nothing out of the ordinary in their world.

I don’t feel old enough to think back and marvel over technological advances; I’m only 45. Nevertheless, I’m amazed by all the variations on a keyboard I’ve used in my own lifetime. At age 16, I took a summer typing course in a big room with rows and rows of IBM Selectric typewriters. One of our typing assignments was a little essay about “word processors,” which sounded so high-tech and futuristic that I couldn’t imagine ever using such a thing. I was in awe simply by the Selectric’s smooth typing and ball that never got stuck; it didn’t bother me to use a little Liquid Paper now and then. Being a good typist was an asset in my first year of college since my skills and little typewriter brought in extra cash preparing last minute papers for desperate students. The following year, the typewriter went to the Goodwill bin when I got an Apple IIC computer, complete with word-processing program on floppy disk. That too became obsolete and ended up in a give-away pile four years later.

In graduate school I was quick to embrace the features of the state-of-the-art NeXT computers in our department’s computer lab. I used a NeXT computer to write the earliest versions of the computer simulations I later developed in my dissertation research. A few years later the NeXTs were way too slow and clunky for anything but email, and I moved on to the department’s latest acquisition — Silicon Graphics workstations. When I was down to the wire and trying to finish up my last computer modeling experiments to graduate, I persuaded my parents to treat me to an early graduation present, a Mac G3. It cut my simulation times in half, and I finished up everything in a few all-nighters. Every time I switched systems, I learned new programming steps and code. The adjustments among computers weren’t seamless, but it took only a few hours to become comfortable in a new environment.

Just thirteen years later, I no longer easily embrace the latest versions of computers and gadgets. Part of the problem is that I’m out of the habit. I don’t think I fully appreciated how fortunate I was as a graduate student to have access to the latest equipment. It was free to use, and there were plenty of colleagues who were computer whizzes who inspired me or helped when I got stuck. I’m also simply out of practice. New technology isn’t something our household budget can afford very often, and I’m no longer part of a research lab with lots of money for new toys.

My husband and I renewed our cell phone plan this year, and the salesperson laughed when she saw the flip-top phone I’d been using since 2004 (it was still perfectly good; why throw it out?). The free smart phone that came with our renewal package enticed me to switch, but I’ve been cursing it ever since. (Steve Jobs may have influenced its technology, but it’s an imitation that doesn’t work like one of his). It does have a cool selection of ringtones, however. And with this latest technology in my life, I’ve thrown out everything I ever learned about typing. I can’t believe I now text with my thumbs. LOL. : ) So much for my keyboarding skills.

 

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