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My new smart phone: Going tharn

Posted by Ron George on May 14, 2011

The Mergenthaler linotype machine: Newspaper technology for 90 years

For several years, I’ve been on the sidelines of the smart phone revolution. I have one now, finally, and it’s pushing me around. I’m just a late adopter trying to adapt.

It reminds me of my first encounter with a workplace computer almost 30 years ago at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. I hadn’t been in a newsroom for seven years. When I left the Dallas Morning News in 1976, we were using Selectric typewriters equipped with ribbon that could be scanned electronically, which produced punch-tape that fed into a reader attached to a Linotype machine, which produced lead slugs that … well, you get the idea. We were slowly weaning ourselves off a 19th-century technology that hadn’t changed much for almost a century. By the time I returned to journalism in 1983, most Linotype machines were in scrap-yards, most back-shop workers were unemployed and newsrooms didn’t have typewriters.

My first day at the Caller-Times, I retrieved an old Royal from a storeroom, lugged it into the newsroom and put it on my desk. No one said a word. I planned to write stories on the typewriter then crank them into the computer. It was ridiculous, but I was scared to death I’d screw up on the computer and lose my story on deadline. I’d actually lain awake worrying about it. It wasn’t until I began hacking noisily at that typewriter that I realized my strategy was beyond lame. I turned away from the typewriter toward a nearby computer workstation, looked across an aisle at a fellow reporter and said, OK, show me. (A few years later, Ripley would say the same thing to Hicks in Aliens. He taught her how to use a pulse rifle.)

It wasn’t that hard, which is not to say there was nothing to fear. That old newspaper mainframe was built circa 1970, and it crashed from time to time, usually as we were hard on deadline. We’d go through several generations of networked PCs before I left the paper in 1999 to move to College Station. By then, it was hard to imagine a day of our lives without a computer at work or at home.

‘Show me’: Hicks trains Ripley 

I am delighted with computers as a writing tool. I’ve spent tens of thousands of waking hours working on computers over the past 28 years. Much of the time, I do it voluntarily. I’m no geek. I haven’t a clue how theses machines work, and I’m not interested in having the latest gadget. Much as it makes me sound like one of the old farts down the general store – “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – if it’s working for me, why change? I’m not a gamer. I have a Web site, but I hear that’s becoming passé. Twitter leaves me cold. Facebook turns me off. I love my laptop (again, passé). I’m halfway considering an IPad (more toy than tool), and I’m wondering whether e-book readers will have the content I’m looking for. I’ve carried a cell phone for years. Even played Tetris on the one I just gave up for my new Droid. At root, though, I’m just a guy whose profession involves a lot of writing and whose hobby is writing about what interests him.

And now this. The Droid.

My sister and her partner have IPhones, and they’re totally hooked. My wife, another sister and her husband have Blackberries, primarily as business tools. For years, I’ve not needed mobile Web and/or e-mail access because I just wasn’t that mobile. I spent my days in an office or at home with few meetings to attend or appointments to keep. I had a phone on my belt and a calendar book in my shirt pocket – and, frankly, I probably could get by without a smart phone now, except … 

Watership Down: Guess which rabbit has gone tharn.

I witnessed a conversion. My sister-in-law didn’t want an IPhone at first. She’s prudent with money, and this looked like just an expensive toy. Well, somehow, it seemed affordable when she and my sister went shopping – and now she’s hooked. She’s not the IPhoniac my sister is, but she loves new apps, loves taking photos of her beloved dachshund and their wonderful backyard; and, it’s good for business. Conversion is not too strong a word. Besides, it looks like fun.

So, on Wednesday of this week, the principal excuse being I “needed it for work,” I upgraded my cell service, bought a Droid and have been utterly frustrated by its touch-screen and default settings that want me to do things I don’t want to do, such as join a social network. (Gag me!) The Aggie salesman at Verizon – I’m not making this up – gave me a whiz-bang short-course that went past me like a Ferrari in high gear. My God, how he made his very own Droid do his bidding. It looked so easy, I just nodded as though I understood everything. Actually, I had gone into the human male equivalent of tharn, a term created by Richard Adams in Watership Down to describe rabbits immobilized by fear. I didn’t get it, and while my new Aggie buddy – a fine young man, by the way – did give me his card and tell me to call if I needed any help – well, I am a guy, and my ego just won’t allow it. It’s in the Guy Code, Sect. 14.iv.b: “Never ask for help.” Meanwhile, my sister assures me I’ll get used to the Droid, and I’m sure I will, but is there an anonymous support group out there somewhere for late adopters trying to catch up? There is, of course, but who has time for that? (Let alone that such sites are magnets for Trojan viruses.) Maybe they should have starter Droids for late adopters who don’t read user manuals. (There is a Web site for that, too. WAINS. Ditto on the Trojan danger.)

So, for now, it’s just me and my Droid. (The damn thing rang the other day, and I had to ask my boss how to answer it!  I called one of my sons by mistake trying to answer it myself and felt so stupid I hung up on him.) God forbid I should ask my little sisters or my IPhoniac daughters for a tutorial.It’s time to suck it up, strap it on, grit your teeth and, above all, pretend you know what you’re doing (GC 12.ix.e, just before the subsection on never asking for directions. Why else was the Garmin invented; and no, I don’t have one of them, either!)

 

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