My relationship with this thing called “technology’ over the past 50 years has been like the ocean tides, with ebbs and flows, highs and lows, gentle rolling waves and violent storms crashing on the shore. There are times when it is there to lift me up and carry me along my way, and other times I feel its sole intent is to pull me down to the utter depths and drown me in frustration. There is a struggle to keep my head above water and to use this strong force to my advantage, instead of to succumb to its power and lose my way in the crashing surf. Indeed, my very entrance into the world was on a day of great sorrow that sent waves of shock and turmoil across our nation and around the world. The news media proclaimed that our young and adored President John F Kennedy had been shot during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Around the globe eyes and ears were attuned to every broadcast network available. My mother cried as she watched the news and readied herself for my arrival. At the hospital, the staff was abuzz over the updates as they flooded the airwaves. Pictures of the young and beautiful first lady - now widowed and displaced, with her bewildered and frightened children gathered around her - flashed across the screen of every television in America. The nation was shattered, and hungry for any bit of information they could glean from the news media. However, in the hours that followed, technology was pushed aside and I was quietly welcomed into my mother’s arms. The storm that raged outside could not penetrate the fortress of love and family that kept me safe on that fateful day.
Technology as we know it today did not really play a major role in my childhood. It was there, in its relative infancy not much further ahead of me. We had a small black and white television, and I hurried to clean my room on Saturday mornings, just for the opportunity to watch a few of my favorite cartoons. But after an hour or so, I would grow restless and head outside for a bike ride or a long walk in the woods to my favorite climbing tree. My grandparents would call almost weekly from Canada and we would gather around to listen and tell the latest family news. When they came to visit, once or twice a year, my grandfather would bring his 8mm video camera and take home movies of our trips to the ocean or backyard wiffle ball games. Then at night, my dad would set up the projector and screen for a slideshow of old and new photos and movies. There was no sound except for the comments from the audience and the clicking of the slide trays or the tape as it let go at the end of the reel. Most of our entertainment was self-made or free broadcast, and of course my older sisters had their own transistor radios. We would listen to the weekly Top Forty, and use a cassette tape recorder to save our favorites so we could learn all the words and sing along: “Billy, don’t be a hero”, “Stayin’ Alive”, “Da Doo Ron Ron Ron, Da Doo Ron Ron”. My mother had her own love affair with the cassette recorder. She would often leave it recording somewhere inconspicuous and catch random memories as they were created amongst our household. These are little treasures washed up on the shore by the technology of the day, and I am so grateful that my mom gathered them up for us. Years later, we would listen and laugh over some innocent conversation, heated argument, piano practice session or impromptu theatrical antics.
As I grew up, technology also grew by leaps and bounds. In high school, I learned to type on a manual typewriter and had my first introduction to computers and floppy discs. We learned logos and how to perform simple functions like input/output tables and other seemingly useless tasks on bulky machines with monochrome monitors. That little blinking cursor on a black screen revealed nothing of what this machine was capable of and I gave it only the slightest bit of respect, as if it might someday be…