Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I love reconnecting on Facebook with friends from long ago and former coworkers at companies none of us still work for and classmates I haven’t seen since our 5-year class reunion, which (trust me), was a long time ago.

And I love how much easier it is to keep up with family than it used to be in the Olden Days, when you composed actual letters by hand and sent them through the actual post office to share your news. Or when you had to actually pick up the telephone, which was probably connected to the wall and had a curly cord attached to the receiver, to find out how Aunt Myrtle’s hip was healing or if Cousin Bubba was out of the slammer yet.

But sometimes I fear that Facebook is taking over my life.

And I’m not the only one, either. Just take a look at all the panicked comments whenever the powers that be at Facebook tweak the site or – as they did this past week – do a whole lot more than mere tweaking.

Multitudes of users start posting wild rumors about how Facebook is going to start charging exorbitant monthly fees to use the site. And people threaten to close their accounts if the site doesn’t immediately change it back to the previous version, which, incidentally, people complained about back when those changes occurred.

However, shortly after they make this declaration, they post comments and jokes and photos as if they’d never threatened to close their account in the first place.

This tells me that (a) people are big fat liars, and (b) we really, really, REALLY hate change.

I, too, have a hard time accepting change – even though I made a vow to myself when I was 20 that I would embrace change as it occurred throughout my life. Yeah, evidently I’m a big fat liar sometimes, too.

So what was my big “Aha!” moment I had at 20 (even though we didn’t call it that in pre-Oprah days)?

Well, settle down children and let me tell you a story.

It all began a long, long time ago when, as an impressionable youngster at the tender age of 13, I learned how to use a manual typewriter. The reason for the development of this particular talent was because my dad, an engineer, wrote ten metallurgical and chemical abstracts every month for publication and he wanted me to type them for him. He coerced me by paying me a dollar per abstract. Believe me, to a 13-year-old back in those days, $10 a month was major coin.

So I had an incentive to learn how to type. Even if it was on a stupid manual typewriter.

But, if you’ve never seen a metallurgical or chemical abstract, let me just tell you – they look rather like hieroglyphics. They contain elaborate equations, so I had to twist and turn the paper on the roller on the typewriter to get all the subscript and superscript characters in the right place. I’m sure they made sense to someone, but to me it looked like my dad had taken a bunch of numbers and characters and threw them at the page. Wherever they landed – even if was on top of another character – they stuck.

Also in these abstracts were strange words I’d never heard before like "decarburization," which means: Loss of carbon from the surface of a ferrous alloy as a result of heating in a medium, usually oxygen, that reacts with carbon.”

Yeah, scintillating – right? Especially to a 13-year-old. So I learned to type those abstracts as quickly as possible so I could move on to more interesting stuff – like Tiger Beat magazine that had pictures of my teen idols, Donny Osmond and Michael Jackson. (Hey, gimme a break – I was 13, for pity's sake!)

Fast-forward to my junior year as a college student at Ohio State... (And, no, smarty-pants, I was not still reading Tiger Beat and I did not still have a crush on either Donny Osmond or Michael Jackson.)

Anyway, having spent my sophomore year working in the food commons area in our dorm was enough to teach me that I never wanted another job in the food service industry.

But I still needed to earn beer-drinking money, so I took a part-time job in the Metallurgical Engineering department. This was back in those prehistoric days before cell phones and laptops and any sort of instant communication. Sadly, it was even before copy machines were commonplace in offices as I recall printing student exams out on a mimeograph machine. I left my office job many a day to attend class with purple-stained fingers.

The full-timers who worked in the office were just learning how to use their new computers, which were slowly being purchased for office use throughout campus. These bulky machines took up nearly three-fourths of the space on their desks and looked extremely slow and cumbersome to me.

As “student help” I was hired to do whatever scut work the full-timers didn’t want to do, but that was okay with me. It wasn’t, after all, my career choice or anything. They got me to run from one floor to another delivering paperwork and messages and whatnot. And I also typed a lot of the midterm and final exams for the professors.

Naturally, these exams included a lot of elaborate equations. But all those years of typing abstracts for my dad had turned me into a pro and I could type at a rate of 95+ words a minute. So I could whip through those hieroglyphics like nobody’s business. Sure, I still couldn’t understand them, but that didn’t matter as I was also not interested in metallurgical engineering as a career path.

So there I sat in front of an electric typewriter, insisting that I could type the same thing on the typewriter that the office manager, Cecily, could do on the computer – and I could do it faster.

(Now you see where the “Aha!” moment is coming, don’t you?!)

So we had “races” – with me typing on the typewriter and Cecily working on the computer. The first couple times we timed ourselves, I did beat her, but that’s only because she wasn’t used to the commands on the computer and had to keep stopping to look up the codes to create a superscript or a subscript character. But all too soon, she was beating my time by a remarkable margin and I had to admit that this newfangled computer thing had merit.

And the first time she finished a page and printed it out while I was still only halfway through, I had to concede. It was in that moment that I told myself that I would never again resist change.

Then, of course, I went on to prove myself a big fat liar, so I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Except that whenever I’m faced with something completely new and different and my first reaction is to resist the change, I really do try to remember how I felt when I realized that something new could work better and faster than the old way.

I wish I could tell you that I took to the computer like a fish to water, but it did take me a little while to catch on. Like, for instance, whenever I needed to enter a superscript character, I’d invariably reach up to the side of the monitor as if to turn the roller on a typewriter. And then I’d sneak a look around to see if anyone had noticed. (And, no, smarty-pants, I never once tried to take a bottle of white-out to the computer screen to correct an error!)

And I’ve learned to love every stinkin’ computer upgrade and program refinement we’ve had over the years.

So to all you Facebook friends who are frustrated with the changes, just give it time – okay? There might even be good reasons for those changes.

Or maybe they’re just messing with us.

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