Boomers and Technology…..

What a ride, challenging, scary, informative and sometimes incomprehensible. The scary part is having no idea where this is going to end, accompanied by the nagging feeling that soon the “watch” on your wrist is going to direct your daily activity and exact a penalty when you disappoint it. I have an uneasy relationship with technology and thought my readers might enjoy the humor associated with this “boomers” forced entry into a mysterious world that seems simple to my grandchildren.

I am old school, having graduated from high school with the ability to handle most basic mathematical necessities relying on a piece of notebook paper, a sharp #2 pencil and the formulas presented in the texts of the day. In my freshman year of college, I signed up for a level one college algebra class and quickly discovered that I was better suited to a liberal arts education and an existence centered around words. It was a clear cut case of having the aptitude but not the interest. In those dark technological ages, such an affliction was not life threatening, just inconvenient at times. My college career was interrupted by the uneasiness of America during the Vietnam war, and I soon found myself in the US Army, where there was precious little necessity for advanced mathematical skill in the delivery of a rifle round on a man sized silhouette some 300 yards down range. Enter the first serious challenge to my thin knowledge of advanced mathematical concepts. The Army, through the wizardry of paper testing, decided that I was ideally suited to being an artilleryman. Good, bigger bullets on bigger targets, but no, wait there is more! It was also decided that I should attend gunnery school where there is a prodigious amount of math involved in the delivery of an artillery round on some hapless soul 10 miles away. On the first day of class, we were issued SLIDE RULES! I was destined to become a slip stick warrior, executing complex mathematical equations on this archaic, linear, mechanical, analog computer, in real time, while the object of my affection, the enemy was making every effort to destroy American soldiers on some hillside miles away. I adapted. Even today, when I see a slide rule, I do not see it for what’s it is, rather I see an instrument that I used to help deliver death to an enemy that I would never see. Before I left Vietnam, the slide rule was replaced by a computer the size of a small car. I saw one on a Fire Support Base not far from Cambodia, but was not forced to become acquainted with it, as I rotated home. I wondered then, what is the world coming to………..

My next experience with technology was courtesy of my beloved Highway Patrol. My Troop Commander called one morning and told me that I was going to attend an advanced accident investigation school in Florida along with three other troopers from Missouri. I was intrigued and excited, until I learned that upon successful completion of that school, I was going to return to Florida and attend an accident reconstruction school. That familiar uneasiness returned. My three buddies and I settled into the classroom on a beautiful campus in North Florida with a couple of Big Chief tablets and boxes of #2 pencils. Our classmates hauled out various calculators, mostly Texas Instruments, and looked at their hillbilly brethren with pity and compassion. We worked hard. There is a lot of trigonometry, algebra and geometry involved in calculating the speeds of vehicles in accidents, a challenge to be sure, but one we met. ( As an example, we were taught to derive various formulas for determining speed and distance from Newton’s basic laws, for recitation in court.) I again wondered, what is the world coming to……..

Computers were evolving at an unprecedented rate. My understanding of this technology was sufficient to see me through until the end of my police career, but it wasn’t without a hiccup now and then. When I became a junior police administrator, my office was equipped with a rather large desktop computer. It wasn’t much more than a prop, as I still wrote most of my reports, using that trusty old #2, for submission to our clerical staff for word processing. Dinosaurs do not go easily! My preference for utter reliance on clerical staff to transform my thoughts into a proper format stayed with me until the end of my Patrol career. My resistance to technology was becoming ridiculous and Sharon, my wife, gently urged me to slip out of my technology cave and enjoy a little light. I enrolled in a college course, “Introduction to Computer Technology”, too late to make much difference in my professional life, but lending a little dignity in my post retirement pursuits. It is those post retirement pursuits that I will write about tomorrow. Remember my earlier commentary about who is in charge? Is it the computer or the operator? The lines are starting to blur just a bit.

My watch just told me to move…….gotta go…….

See you tomorrow!

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