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I use old technology

September 8, 2012

CC image from Wikimedia CommonsEarlier this week, one of the storage closets at my library was given a (late summer) spring cleaning. It was like an archaeological dig. We re-discovered things that caused us to pause, think hard, and have to ask, “What is this? What was it used for?” Some things we figured out. Others? Well…we just gave up and moved on. Put simply: It was a blast. Forget the fact that we had a library to run. We had hidden treasures to find!

Two particular items that we unearthed from the shadows of the closet were an 80’s-era touch tone phone and what had to be one of the first laptops ever used at our library (a circa-1996 NEC Versa 2435CD notebook). I’m a librarian, so I immediately knew what we needed to do. Make a joke, of course. I proceeded to take a picture of the equipment sitting on my desk and posted it to Facebook with the following caption:

I couldn’t resist, and it provided some mid-week comic relief for a number of my friends to boot. (The ever-helpful librarian after all) OK, so it was a tongue-and-cheek reaction, but it got me thinking about how much I actually DO use “old” technology on a regular basis.

We live in a disposable society–particularly when it comes to our technology. When I walk out of the store after having bought a shiny new mobile phone, I’m already planning for when I will be back to retire it for an even shinier new phone with an improved data plan. When it begins to take more than 120 seconds for my laptop to turn on and let me double-click into my virtual world, I want to start window shopping. If I’m two software upgrades behind, bless my heart.

Before you label me a Luddite or technophobe, hear me out. I love new technological toys and advancements. How liberating it is to cloud store my files and be able to access them from anywhere with an internet connection–even if I don’t have my laptop or a folder stuffed with paper documents with me. And I was immensely thankful last week that I was able to use FedEx overnight delivery to send a time-sensitive document to Pittsburgh and did not have to settle for the Pony Express. Long live the growth of advanced and improved technologies! What I am recognizing here is the fact that alongside the new technologies, I still use and depend on many things that have to be considered old technologies. Cases in point:

  1. I used a hammer last weekend to hang a framed picture on the wall.
  2. A needle — one of the most ancient of technologies — was my tool of choice this summer when I discovered one morning that my shirt was missing a button.
  3. At my house we keep a classic and seasoned pocket calculator in the junk drawer for quick access (the thing is far older, by the way, than this year’s college freshmen).
  4. Every day I trust my life to not one but four of a millennia-old device — the wheel — on my way to work and back.
Actual artifacts I still use

So, yes, I use old technology, and that makes me ponder: Why do some technologies remain timeless while others become so quickly outdated? One answer: Usefulness. Let me bring this back to the library world for an illustration. Many library catalogs now offer the ability to send a catalog record to a mobile phone via text message.

The “Send via Text Message” feature is a handy way of bringing the book’s call number with you to the shelves to retrieve the book without having to engage in a cram session of memorizing the call number (which I often forget before I get to the book stacks). With that said, the classic golf pencil and scrap paper also remain effective tools for this. Not so much, granted, if I have to leave the computer to locate a pencil (and a sharpener because, of course, it would need it) and then run around looking for a scrap piece of paper in every trash receptacle I can find. But strategically placed next to the computer, yes, the pencil and scrap paper work beautifully. Effectiveness trumps age. (Not to mention the fact that the 4″x4″ scrap paper stack provides a way of recycling paper left abandoned at the copiers.)

So as society continues to develop and use (rightfully so) new technologies that improve our ability to accomplish tasks, let us give thanks. But let us also remember to pay homage to those technologies that are “long in the tooth” but continue to serve us well.

How do you blend the use of old technologies with the new?

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