Jeff Hammer: My reluctant respect for new technologies

Readers of this column will no doubt remember my disdain for the flood of new technologies that seem to constantly invade our daily lives from all directions, but this assessment is not the full picture of my feelings towards the improvements made in regarding the onslaught of new technologies in recent decades.

My teaching career began in the fall of 1989, and I spent the first five years of my career never touching a computer. When I got a 5th grade position at Fort Washakie School for the 1994-95 school year, the mandatory expectation was that the grades had to be entered into a computer and then the software would do the work to calculate a grade final for the nine-week period. and possibly the semester.

Having no experience using a computer (I didn’t even know how to turn one on), this wait caused me tremendous anxiety. Luckily, my paraprofessional knew how the program worked and spent many hours patiently showing me how to do my job when it came to all things computer related. My initial mistrust of computers led me to keep handwritten back-up notes in a spiral notebook similar to those used by teachers many decades before, solely for this purpose. These are notebooks that will be considered museum pieces in the not too distant future.

And in every school and classroom I’ve worked in since then, a computer has been a necessary and important part of my professional life, but the grump in me has grumbled at every new technological demand placed on me.

For many years, I used to spend a few hours at school on Sunday evenings to finalize my lesson plans for the week and make sure I was well prepared for the next day. About 15 years ago I came back to my Northern Elementary class on a Sunday night after winter break or spring break, I can’t remember which ones, to make these preparations, and I discovered that while I was away a new interactive Smartboard had been installed out front where I would normally write with a marker on the whiteboard.

Having received no advance notice that a Smartboard was heading my way, I was a bit shocked that it was there, and my next thought was in disbelief: “What am I supposed to do with this thing?”

It turns out that a few months later, after being trained by a very patient school district tech instructor, I wondered how I had been able to live without it for so many years. They are today, and have been since their first use, a very valuable teaching tool in the classroom, indispensable in my opinion.

When cell phones first hit the scene a few decades ago, the craze with which many Americans embraced this new technology seemed a bit too much like a fad to me then. Yeah, it’s popular today, but what about five years from now? I mean, we’ve survived, even thrived as a civilization, for centuries without calling anyone from anywhere, just for fun. Maybe, I thought, people will just lose patience with the possibility of being interrupted at the most inopportune moment, and decide that this whole connection is more of a pain in our collective backsides than we’re willing to tolerate… and then there’s the inconvenience of having to find a place on your person to put the damn thing.

Never underestimate the perseverance and ingenuity of a motivated population. Who knew three decades ago that the back pocket of a set of jeans would be the perfect size to store the 21st century sixgun.

Well, it’s obvious now that very few people feel the way I do. Not only do we not mind being disturbed, but many of us seem to panic when we aren’t interrupted as often as we seemingly need to feel “loved.”

Can you say “insecurity”?

The first Internet-capable cell phone went live in 1996, and since then, cell phone usage has never been the same. The idea of ​​having internet access in the palm of your hand was a bit too much for me to think about… so I didn’t; but it seems most people can’t live without it.

My little flip phone doesn’t have internet access and won’t if I have a say in it, but I have to make a concession that such power is useful. When traveling, my wife’s cell phone has saved us a lot of stress, especially when our flight plans have been changed by the airlines or when we’re going through unfamiliar territory and Siri tells me where and which way to turn to get to our destination destination.

A recent example of this gift occurred a few months ago when my wife and I left our youngest daughter’s home in Wellington, Colorado, after a very pleasant visit, to drive to our oldest daughter’s home in Madison, Wisconsin, where we expected the same result. But we wanted to drive through part of Kansas first to visit some national historic sites on an indirect route that would eventually take us to Nebraska, Iowa, and then Wisconsin. The map of Colorado from my daughter’s atlas said we could travel straight east across Interstate 25 from Wellington and make a few right-angle turns over farmland to eventually access a two-lane highway leading at Nicodemus National Historic Site.

The problem arose less than ten minutes into our trip, shortly after crossing the freeway and the frontage road heading east. About a hundred yards later we came to a ‘T’ intersection where we had to choose to proceed either left or right. This intersection was not marked on the map, but my inclination was to turn right, which was completely contrary to my long-standing mantra of “when in doubt, always turn left”.

Wisely, my wife suggested we ask Siri. She asked, in her usual nonjudgmental tone, to return to the frontage road, turn north for a quarter of a mile, then east and “continue to the road.” We did, and in no time we were back on track. If we had remained faithful to my initial impulse, I have no doubt that the result would have been much different and much worse. It’s never nice to experience an increasing level of frustration in an enclosed space with a long day ahead of you with someone who knows you at least as well as you know yourself.

However, the most recent example of today’s indispensable need for cell phones was during our recent trip to Europe for a river cruise. My wife spent many hours before the trip, with both a computer and a cell phone, sometimes using them simultaneously to do what seemed to me like some sort of online voodoo to make arrangements for the cruise itself and to meet Covid requirements for airports, airlines and cruise line.

The whole process told me that it is no longer possible to travel abroad without a computer in your pocket, and my desire for the world to be different is just wishful thinking.

During the plane ride to the United States, I watched a western made in 1970 with John Wayne and Dean Martin called Rio Bravo. The film is set in Texas, along the border with Mexico, near what is now Big Bend National Park. This is an area that I know a little about. Predictably, there were no cell phones or computers throughout the film, and no animation either, thank goodness. Long story short, I was transported back in time to the early 1970s when I’m sure I’ve watched this same movie at the Grand Theater in Lander, where the price of admission was well under a dollar for a twelve year old year. It was two hours of life in the past. Invaluable.

About Dianne Stinson

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