Thursday, August 28, 2014

J S Bach

(Boredom Alert! If you aren’t interested in technology in any way, shape, or form, you better surf somewhere else. Today’s post is about technology. Sort of.)

In my low-tech youth, we were considered fortunate to have a telephone at home. The first one I remember was in the country, and we had a three-party line. That meant two other homes had phones that would ring when someone called us. And, obviously, ours would ring if someone else on the line received a call. Each ring was distinctive: one long, one short; or one long, two shorts; and so on. The temptation was to pick up even when our own ring wasn’t the one we heard—to hear what other people were saying. I was only six or seven and too young to submit to temptation. I can’t vouch for other members of my family.

At that time we had a rather nice radio, big floor model, on which I listened to The Long Ranger every evening at 6:30. It was my bedtime (the prevailing childrearing wisdom in that long-ago era decreed 12 hours of sleep for children—which I never got because I couldn’t go to sleep at 6:30 PM and sleep till 6:30 AM. But that’s another story). I loved listening to the radio while lying on the living room rug, staring into the cloth-covered speaker. (Sorry, I don’t remember the brand.)

For other entertainment, we had movies, both Technicolor and black and white; live bands for dancing; and homemade music—guitars, fiddles, and accordions, along with singers of varying homegrown talent.

Television was in our future, as were fax machines, home computers, and laser technology in medicine.

In the 1970s and 1980s I began to notice what I now call mid-tech events. The law office that hired me had a Mag-Card typewriter that recorded boilerplate paragraphs on flexible plastic “cards” the size of a cashier’s check. The boilerplate was coded with stops—the machine would stop and the operator could insert information, perhaps the name of the person making the will, deed, or affidavit, or the names of legatees.

In a short time we had one personal computer in the office for the real estate secretary—she typed long legal descriptions, and having once proofread it with another person, she could save it for future use on a number of documents for a transaction. A big time saver.

Next came the word processors, stand-alone machines that did primarily text, but had a couple of bells and whistles, such as calculations—adding up a column of figures being one I recall because I used it often. And loved that feature, math not being my greatest talent.

As is often the case, one computer led to another, and before we knew where we were, we had a small mainframe. This was nothing like room size, more like a two-suiter suitcase standing on end. From that one little server, we could operate three or four other workstations.

Ah, as you see, we’re getting into modern terms.

During all this technology advancement, we learned that we could do a whole lots more work with less effort. No one was out of a job, but we could take on more business because the documents could be prepared more quickly.

So—if technology changed the workplace—no, I really should say “when” it changed the workplace—what happened out in the rest of the world?

My observation is this: technology didn’t change people. That is, not their emotions, their relationships, their challenges in life. We still fell in love, lost friends or made new ones, saw our family members die and mourned their passing. The death rate, the divorce rate, the disinheriting of heirs—none of that was affected by technology.
Stories, stories, stories...

The universal truths that have come down to us through literature, visual art, music—all these have continued. If they had not, how could we, in our 21st Century lives, appreciate the literature of the Bible? The Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo? Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos?

Love found and love lost . . . betrayal . . . forgiveness . . . redemption . . . sacrifice . . . they’re all found in the Bible, in the ancient literatures of other cultures--they're always with us, as they were then, and, I suspect, as they always will be.

We can see and feel and hear them through the books we hold in our hands or read on our e-reader; through a concert in Lincoln Center or on an iPod; on a gallery tour by foot at the Metropolitan or sitting at home, online.

Low-tech, mid-tech, high-tech—does it matter? I doubt it. What matters is that we continue to celebrate all the facets of life, in whatever century we live, with whatever tools we have at hand.

They’re all gifts. Give thanks for them.

Portion of Michelangelo's painting
on the Sistine Chapel ceiling



  1. It is amazing how much has changed in a relatively short time!

  2. Short time? You are a friend indeed! Feels like a lo-o-o-o-ng time to me!