Steve: Getting left behind in the digital age

I used to consider myself tech savvy back in the days when personal computers could do about a tenth of what a cell phone can do now.

In those days, PCs cost $2,000, weighed about 30 pounds and featured clunky monitors with monochrome screens that showed letters, numbers and a cursor (often that was me cursing) that blinked in dull green mockery as you attempted DOS codes.

I got in on the ground floor when the newspaper I worked for became an early adapter of what became the dreaded VDT (video display terminal). You could type your story onto that monochrome screen and have it automatically converted to “cold type” by another machine in the back by hitting the “Send” button.

Before the VDT came along, a story for me was often an unsightly, five-foot-long banner of cheap paper weighed down with typewriter ink, thick editing pencil scribbles, and cellophane tape.

VDTs didn’t always save time or effort. Every five minutes or so the VDT system would freeze. Someone would yell “Reset,” and we simultaneously clicked reset buttons until the problem cleared up. If that didn’t do it, our newsroom came to a halt. We endured lots of tense deadlines and creatively expressed profanity.

Later, I learned the hard way what came between the typewriter and the VDT. It was an insufferable apparatus called the “scanner.” With this torture device, you had to perfectly align a specially marked sheet of paper into an IBM Selectric typewriter and fix your typos by applying precise markings with a felt-tip pen. For someone like me with challenged fine motor skills, editing was agony.

When one laggard newspaper I worked for made the transition from scanner to VDT, I suddenly went from being slow and error-prone to being a near-genius because I had used a VDT before.

A few years later I left the news business and found myself working with early word processing software on a personal computer. I learned a little about DOS commands and could work with early word processing programs because my VDT experience had taught me some of the tools of word processing. I was one of the tech go-to guys for a while.

Then, along came Word Perfect, a program that opened with a blank screen, so you could just start hammering away like you used to do on paper.

I got lazy until I was chosen to experiment with the earliest Internet browsers and once again got ahead of things.

Somewhere in there, however, I lost my edge. I noticed one day that people I thought were techno-phobic were telling me about things they were able to do on computers that I didn’t know you could do. While I wasn’t looking, computer ownership became commonplace.

It just hasn’t been the same since then. Social media almost left me behind. I have a Facebook account and an under used Linked-In account. Twitter lost me with hashtags. Now, while a whole science has grown up around social networks, I find myself among the know-nothings who keep up with friends but do little else with Web 2.

My kids grew up with the social network, but I’m old enough not to depend on it. I’ll let the people who crank out amazingly complex code in the simplest of text editing programs — the real programmers — do all the pioneering.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep a respectable distance behind the dust cloud they leave in their wake.

Steve Hansen is the managing editor at the Quay County Sun. He can be reached at shansen@qcsunonline.com

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