Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Technological Miracles, or: Taking a Break from the 1940 Census

I am being frustrated in my attempts to access the 1940 census and find my parents, my in-laws, other relatives in it. The high demand on bandwidth is one reason, and frustrations with just plain findin' 'em is another.  I have the right enumeration districts, thanks to the Steve Morse website, and the maps are clearly showing I'm in the right place, but I can't find my aunt and uncle in Glendale or my father-in-law in Jacksonville because their house numbers don't appear to be there!  I know that the street where my father-in-law lived was renumbered, but I'm fairly sure that was done in the 1930s, when that part now known as the south side of Jacksonville (in local usage, Southside), became part of Jacksonville, having previously been the separate town of South Jacksonville.

So let's get away from the slow loading, the crashes, the hangups, and the frustrations and talk about technology.  This morning my older daughter and I were on our way here, to the University of North Florida, where she works and I am a student.  My daughter is a technology geek, and spends the ride in (I drive) accessing Twitter, Gizmodo, and other sites on her mobile phone.  She regales me with all sorts of items, and it passes the time on the drive, which takes about 45 minutes.

This morning we were talking about how technology has changed our lives.  My primary example when I talk to my much younger college classmates is how it used to be at registration when I took my first trip through the groves of academe, at Florida State University in the 1960s.  On the day of your registration appointment, what you had to do was get a good breakfast, dress in comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes, and stand in line for up to six hours outside the gym for the privilege of getting into the gym and beginning the registration process.  Registration itself consisted in moving from station to station picking up a computer punchcard at each station for each class you needed that term.  Seniors came up against the wonderful experience of having picked up the last punchcard for one class they had to have to graduate, only to learn that the only available time for that class conflicted directly with the only available time for another class they needed in order to graduate!

I got around that situation by wearing a button that said, "I am a human being; do not fold, spindle, or mutilate."  (Punch cards had on them a warning not to "fold, spindle, or mutilate" so that the data on the punchcard not be compromised.)  The person sitting at the table with that second course I needed managed to pull out a reserve he had put by of the same class offered at a different time.  In those days, humanity counted and was a necessary consideration.

Nowadays the tradeoff for any possible loss of humanity, for us being converted online into just more ones and zeroes, is nearly instantaneous registration.  It's painless and you don't even have to get dressed!  You sit down at your computer, get to the page for looking up classes, look up the classes you want or need, click the radio button, and there you are.  Less than five minutes.

To me, that is a miracle.

Another miracle is that represented in the lifespan of my grandma, Mary LeSourd Reed.  She was born before the Wright brothers made their flight at Kitty Hawk, and died nine years after Neil Armstrong placed his footprints on the moon.

What miracles are yet to come?  Remember what Arthur C. Clarke said:  "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I may grouse and complain at times about technology, the pace of change, and the lack of realization among younger classmates of just how miraculous an age they live in.  They take for granted things that I have seen develop from nonexistence to everyday reality.  That's magic.  As much as I complain, I am also at times awed by what has come to pass in such a very brief snippet of the span of human history. What miracles have your ancestors witnessed?

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