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New Year stirs memories of simpler era

I’m wondering, is this the last year of the first decade of the 21st century or the first year of the second decade of the new millennium?

I’m a bit puzzled, as I was in 2000 about whether to celebrate the new millennium in aught aught or aught one. It seems to me that celebrating in 2010 is a year premature. When I count, I start with the number one, not with zero.

It’s puzzling, but at least we don’t have to worry about the Y2-K hassle that kept us all spell bound 10 (or was it 11?) years ago, ever fearful that our computers would go haywire, traffic lights would falter, elevators would stick between floors and the technology that we had painstakingly developed, adopted, and learned to rely on over the past few decades would rise up and bite us all in the hind parts.

My hind parts remain unchewed. I must admit, however, that I have suffered more than a few motherboard meltdowns in the past 10 years. I may have mentioned before that I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love it when it works and saves me time; hate it when it either goes on the fritz or when I don’t understand how to make it work.

I recall issues with my first computer, an old Apple of some kind or another, which, compared to the laptop on which I am now working, bore more resemblance to a chisel and stone than to modern technology. But it did have one advantage: It minced no words when it broke down. When something went awry, an icon of an exploding bomb immediately popped up on the monochrome screen. Subtle.

Modern computers simply freeze up, hide important documents from view or fail to come on when prompted. One never knows whether a problem exists somewhere in the inner circuitry or with the circuitry in my brain that may have forgotten the password over a long holiday weekend.

Things have changed since I embarked on a journalism career — back when technology consisted of a manual Smith-Corona typewriter and a Rolodex.

I was recently reminded of my inauspicious beginning when my first publisher/editor/mentor called just before Christmas. I had emailed him about a personal project I’ve been working on. Bill Meade owned the weekly newspaper where I cut my teeth as a reporter. He taught me a lot — mainly the importance of delegating.

Our chat reminded me of how we used to do things, back in the day. The typewriter, of course, and cameras were either twin-lens Yashicas that used two-and-a-quarter-inch film, black and white, or the old Speed Graphic with a Polaroid adapter to take pictures of breaking news the day we went to press.

We kept files in large metal cabinets, not in file icons on a computer desktop. Speaking of desktops, mine was steel, gunmetal gray, cluttered with notes, call-back messages and advertising insertion orders. I was a salesman, too. I was horrible at it. My best opening line consisted of: “You wouldn’t want to buy an ad today, would you?”

All our copy had to be re-keyed into a Justo-writer (not certain of that spelling) that arranged it into columns, which had to be waxed and pasted onto make-up sheets that were photographed and then transferred onto metal plates for the off-set press.

I’m tired just thinking about it. Editing is a lot easier now. I could take this paragraph, for instance, and move it anywhere I wanted in this document with just a few key strokes. It wouldn’t make much sense but I could.

So I guess I’m pleased with the technology at my disposal on this dawn of the second decade of the 21st century or the sunset of the first decade of this new millennium. But sometimes the simplicity of a manual typewriter, a camera that uses real film and a filing system that doesn’t disappear when the lights go out retains a certain appeal.

Happy New Year.

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