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October 19th, 2011

Not a Luddite – I just think old stuff is rad

The recent passing of Steve Jobs prompted several conversations in the office, or at least in the Marketing/PR department, about old technologies and how/where they’ve gone. We’re amazed if/when we stumble onto a computer with an old floppy-disk drive nowadays, but in 2006 when I moved to Prague I actually brought a few old 3.5″ disks with me, as they had some stuff on them that I’d not yet saved elsewhere. I remember that by 2009 I had a difficult time finding anyone – even among my IT friends – who had a floppy drive, and fortunately I was able to find one at Anglo-American University Library, where my librarian friends were kind enough to let me use it, to at least save everything to an external USB drive.

In spirit, I could be like Henry David Thoreau, living out my days reading and writing by lamplight in an old cabin in the woods (not at Walden Pond, but somewhere in neighboring Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains), with no electricity or plumbing. But I really do like electronic gadgets, even though I may be many years behind the mainstream in terms of adoption – i.e., I’ve still never played with a smartphone or a GPS device, and foursquare is to me a game I played in elementary school.

Dream state

What I would rather play with is my ’81 Gibson Les Paul through an old tube amplifier… making it louder until the volume knob is around 7… and then dialing in that sweet distortion one finds between 7 and 10 (at least on my little ‘60s Epiphone amp) and playing until sunrise, until my fingers start to bleed.

My oldest daughter at 1.5 years, playing her daddy's '81 Gibson Les Paul

And I still prefer the sound of a vinyl record over that of digital music – digital still seems to my ears somehow ‘cold’. I must not be alone in this, or DJs wouldn’t be mixing digital ‘scratch’ sounds into modern music (which, by the way, doesn’t do much for me, as to me ‘music’ is something made with instruments – not with software). I love old radios, too. A few months ago, my daughters inherited an old Tesla shortwave radio that I can’t wait to get working again.

But maybe I could do without the electricity… I could get used to playing on an old acoustic guitar, I guess. And without a computer… well, I love old manual typewriters. And antique cameras. I recently found in my attic an old tire-pressure gauge with the inscription “Made in Czechoslovakia” (a country that no longer exists), and while working in my back yard I’ve dug up several rusty remnants of tools and farm equipment… all of which makes me feel like it must be Christmas.

Transitioning

Aside from a brief ‘computing’ segment during a typing class I had in high school (circa 1990) and learning how to make my name go across the screen in various ways on a Commodore 64 (circa 1986), I’ve not had any formal training on computers (see AVAST Community Manager Julia Szymanska’s recent blog post on this). But when I bought my first desktop (HP) in 1997 because I saw the way things were headed… I often pulled all-nighters to figure out my ‘new’ contraption. I clicked down through every set of folders, trying to see what was where and why. I learned basic use of MS Word, MS Works, etc., and I purposely made mistakes – just to see if I could actually mess anything up beyond my own ability to fix it. My PC crashed (many times), but never beyond what I could figure out on my own with a little logic and/or online research.

Cybereality

I would could not have imagined, when I bought my first PC in ’97, that within 12 years my entire livelihood would be made in the realm of computers. My use of computers increased more rapidly around 2002, when I started university (late, at age 28), and by 2009 my work was completely computer-based. Now I work here at AVAST Software (pics of our Prague HQ), and the company name of course says how central computers are to what we do. But, even beyond that, everything I do personally gets done almost exclusively on a PC, including most of my internal communications. Rarely do I use the telephone on my desk. Everything is via email, IM/chat, or our project management system.

My oldest daughter at 2.5 years, learning to use her grandpa's old typewriter

My oldest daughter is about to turn four, and she is already adept at using the mouse for watching My Little Pony episodes on YouTube and arrow keys while browsing family photos. My romantic side would rather raise her more like I was raised, with few electronic gadgets around, but I have to remind myself that in the early ‘70s only a few electronic gadgets were even available. And, I have to remind myself that, of those we had available – chiefly a record player and a B&W television – my parents taught me to work them by the age that my daughter is now.

I don’t know where we’re headed with all this technology, but my point is that I don’t resist anymore. Our technology arrives from human needs and wants, and these are the same needs/wants that gave us fire, the wheel, the printing press, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and so many other practical devices that we now deem ‘necessary’ to our existence.

One thing I want to mention, however – and this may sound strange coming from an employee of a software company – is that it’s also necessary to unplug ourselves now and then. That’s right, log out of all your social networks, IM/chat and email programs, and ‘shut down’ your PC instead of putting it in ‘sleep mode’. Not just for a few hours, but for an entire day or two. I promise you that the internet and all that information you love to find and read will still be there when you turn it on again. ;)

Of course, I’m saying this mostly to myself… as everyone in the house is asleep, it’s almost midnight, and I’m writing this for work (even though it could certainly wait until tomorrow). :D

 

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