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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Casting Type

In 1984, I was a third-year high school English teacher. My classroom was next to the typing room which housed twenty IBM “Selectric” typewriters—the ones that used a letter-ball. My own typewriter used 45 separate mechanical “skinny arms” that left letters on the paper like swatted flies. (Everything I "wrote personally" between 1974 and 1990 was done on that old Royal Junior.)

It's hard to believe that back in the 80's teachers were still typing tests and hand-outs on “spirit masters” rolled into a typewriter. We kept razor blades in our desks to scrape off typos before running them off on the “spirit duplicator machine,” a process that used highly flammable methyl alcohol dispensed from two-gallon cans in the teacher work room.

Today’s students know nothing about these duplicating methods, but some of you may remember the days when teachers walked in a minute late with purple fingertips, and handed out purple-inked pages that were still damp and cool and smelled so good we held them up to our noses like fresh-baked bread. Smelling those spirits was the highlight of my otherwise substance-free life as a student. Looking back on it from a teacher’s perspective, however... between the razor blades, combustible cans, and toxic fumes it’s a wonder any teacher over 45 lived to talk about it.

Only when “photocopying” became affordable in the early 1990's, did the spirit duplicator disappear from schools. What would teachers do without copy machines. But get this... yesterday my wife handed her student assistant a letter and asked her to “Xerox” it for her. The student politely said, “I’d be happy to do that if I knew what you were talking about.” Then she just stood there blankly. For a split second Julie had a similar blank look, caused by a premonition of herself in a nursing home trying to remember where she put her glasses, but she shook it off and explained that “Xeroxing” is what we used to call “making a copy.”

I must share one more fact from 1984 before getting to the real point of this post--which is more about the future than the past. It was in that same year that a freshman at the University of Texas “souped up” up his Macintosh Apple II computer and began charging others for doing the same to theirs. His name was Michael Dell, and twenty years later, his company became the world’s largest producer of personal computers (click on chart to enlarge).
I'm typing this on a Dell computer, but I'm not really “typing,” in the old sense of the term—and these are not patterns of ink—they are bits of binary data in cyberspace.(How's that for a blog name?)

We are living in exponential times. The changes I’ve described above are nothing compared to what lies ahead. A friend recently sent me an online PowerPoint presentation called
“Did You Know.”
[If you promise to come back here, you may go watch it now. It takes six fascinating minutes.]

That slideshow was put together by Karl Fisch, a high school teacher in Colorado and fellow blogger. I confess that after viewing it twice, I felt like an old mop, wrung out of all I thought I knew and flung back to the floor to soak up something I didn't even know had spilled. One thing we must remember when we feel overwhelmed by change is that technology--no matter how amazing--is simply a tool. How it is used will always reflect the heart of man. It can be used to connect people (as it does in blogging), but it can also be used to exploit people as is does with pornography, gambling, etc.

Think of it like this: The Gutenberg Press was a technological marvel in its day, printing 200 copies of the Bible in 1445. Printing presses through the centuries went on to print far less noble things. Today,I can include links in my posts from Bible Gateway which puts over 50 translations of the Bible at our fingertips in seconds, but that same internet technology can bring countless sources of filth and wasted time into our homes. See what I mean? Technology will always expedite man's nature and reflect his heart. It is in that sense, that even in the face of head-spinning change, we can say with Solomon “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Please direct any "veteran teachers" you know to this post. I'd love to hear more thoughts about the old technology of our trade, etc. In the meantime... Thanks for letting me "type" at ya!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember dittos from the mimeograph. That is what my teachers called spirit duplicators. They did smell good. I didn't have time to watch the link but I will.

13/3/07 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched it. The part about having many different jobs doesn't surprise me. The old days of staying with one company your whole life is pretty rare. The other parts about future technology are a little scary even to me and I've been called a computer geek. Interesting post.

16/3/07 7:21 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks for your thoughts, ANON. I really thought there were more "veteran teachers" out there who might remember running dittos, but I'm glad at least one "student" shared. =)

We called them dittos, too. I still have things in my files printed in that "muddy" purple ink. (The type was never "crisp.")

I've gotten over my "future shock" from seeing that video link. I think the "spoof" in the post below helped me put it in perspective. It's not very PC, but I think it was done in good fun.

16/3/07 9:50 PM  

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