Thursday, July 31, 2008

Am I a Luddite? Crap.

Ever since I first had access to a computer I was enthralled. Now granted that first access was somewhere in the dark ages of the early 1980s ... yes kids, we had to walk 5 miles to school through blizzards with no shoes and if we were lucky we had a hat... we were never lucky. Back then, when I was in college and took my first INTRO TO COMPUTERS class it was a brave new world of magic! It was about learning a new language (yes, I used to be fluent in No hablo. Damn you Windows... damn you.) It was about being in a room with machines that looked as if they had been pulled from a Sci-Fi movie set. COLOSSUS is that YOU? It was about HUGE air-conditioning units necessary to make sure the 'main frame' didn't overheat. It was about Diablo dot matrix printers - ooooooh so fast and you only had to pull off the perforated strips to get rid of the feeder holes that ran along both sides of the streams of paper. And the type didn't look that bad, really. They were about word processing huge documents that you didn't have to re-type and re-type if there were errors the way you did on a typewriter. Computers were about codes and breaking into people's accounts. Email, not really a big thing. Internet? What the net? But about those accounts . . .

I was in college. The computer folks all had accounts, where teachers (at least the computer teachers) stored their exams and such. I'm not going to go into details, but let's just say I had seen War Games and movies of its ilk a few too many times and figuring out people's passwords was not something that required Kreskin-like (sorry kids, let's use a more up-to-date reference Criss Angel-like) ability to figure people out. I passed computers, okay? Let's not pry into the hows and whys.

But right now I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the days before these wonderful monsters became the giant part of our lives that they are today. Don't get me wrong: I love the hell outta these things. I use the computer for so much it is almost scary. Almost. And I am consistently stunned when I hear people my own age (or younger!) saying things like "I just don't get how to use them" "I'm too old to figure computers out" and other such nonsense. Computers are so seriously stupid-resistant nowadays that it's just shocking that anyone would have trouble using them. And if you are having trouble, all you need to do is take a little time and you can work it out. I'm no computer genius, I'm math-challenged, and yet I have reinstalled 3 hard-drives and two cd/dvd drives on my own as well as multiple reformattings and repartitioning of said drives (Gate Way... don't ask). So if I can do it... well, you know the rest.

So when I start feeling nostalgic for the old days I know it's not a matter of frustration with how the world works today. 'Cos I kinda love it the way it is. Can't lie. I loves me some internet.

My nostalgia here is for the old library. The way the library used to be, specifically: I MISS THE CARD CATALOGUE!

If I could only have things one way: card catalogue or library-wide internet access, clearly I would have to choose the latter. But I so very much miss flipping through endless drawers of 3x5 cards filled with nothing but typed names, titles, topics and call numbers. I miss that feeling of being a thief when I'd take a whole drawer out and sit at a table with it - effectively keeping the location of everything listed in that drawer to myself. For those minutes every book that corresponded to a card in that drawer belonged to me and me alone. Okay, yeah, I needed a life ... let's face it, still do. BUT there was something about finding an intriguing title, or a book that sounded like something that would help with whatever you were researching... I was always researching something. God... What a geek.... oh yeah... still am... and then hunting it down on the shelves. Oooooh just call me Vasco da Gama! Okay no, don't call me that... Joy's okay. Let's stick with that for now. But you know what I mean! Discovery! Wheeee!

Of course now that libraries are computerized the card catalogues are no more. And of course it's infinitely more efficient to look it up on the computer and have it reserved for you. Unless you aren't really sure of the title, or the author's name. But you can usually find that with a little library googling, so no big. But what you do miss by not having that tactile little drawer of cards is the discovery-factor. That "ooooh what's this then" feeling of spotting a title you've never heard of, or just having a 'feeling' that this might be something you want to read. Sure you get that going through the stacks, but that's also based on a level of marketing. Pretty colors or fonts that catch our attention from the spines of books. With the card catalogue you had no such deceptions. It was all in the name. All in the cards, if you will.

So am I a Luddite? Do I wish we only the old days? No. Not a chance.

Do I wish we had a little of the old days available. Oh yeah. I really do.

1 comment:

Gary said...


I have to admit to being a bit of a Luddite myself when it comes to cell phone technology. It is on par with your feelings about the library cards I guess. On the one hand I am happy to have easy access to family and friends but on the other hand I they are really abused in public places; while driving and especially on the train. I have heard more boring, loud conversations than I would ever choose to hear.

On the card stack issue - I know exactly what you mean. But at this point in my life with all the research I have to do I could not even begin to imagine the nightmare of doing so without the internet. I think I would just pack my bags and leave school. How did anyone get a doctorate back in the day? (walking uphill in a snow storm backwards without a hat).