They call me Modem Man.
I was surrounded by techie people (aka geeks) when I was growing up in Princeton, New Jersey. Not an iota of that ever rubbed off on me. To be clear, I am not anti-tech. It’s just that I don’t think in a way that leads me in that direction. Just last week I spent the better part of an HOUR trying to login to my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts on our new laptop. Let’s just say it involved several go rounds of wrong passwords, inadvertently closed tabs, multiple “change password” codes, my wife’s email account, extended phone consultation with my daughter and more inadvertently closed tabs. I got it, but it was ... a process.
In the 1950s, we lived in a two-family house. Separated from us by nothing but a wall was the internationally acclaimed mathematician Atle Selberg and his family. Dr. Selberg spent more than 50 years on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, which is described as one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual curiosity (37 Nobel Prize recipients). Go on the internet and you will see this description of Dr. Selberg’s fascinating focus: known for his work in analytic number theory and the theory of automorphic forms, and in particular for bringing them into relation with spectral theory. I couldn’t have said it better myself. How did that not rub off on me?
On one side of our two-family house lived the Brown family. George Brown, a scientist, was a key mover and shaker in development of what is now color television. He was based at RCA’s R & D campus.
On the other side of us was the Dick Melville family. He worked in what resembled a WWII quonset hut across the street from the Institute for Advanced Study. One weekend, he came over and asked my father if the two of us would like to go to where he worked and look at something new called a computer.
I will never forget entering that rundown building. Think of it as one room perhaps 20’ x 40’. When I close my eyes, I can see it today just as it was all those years ago.
Inside that room was a lot of noise – clang, clang, clang – the sound of metal hitting metal. Overhead were hundreds of different color wires resembling airborne spaghetti. All around the room were large, gray metal boxes of various heights and sizes, all connected to each other. It was obvious something important was happening in that room. Dick Melville said, You’re looking at the future. To me then, that was crazy talk. Little did I know the significance of what I was seeing.
Much later in life, I remember the first FAX machines. We had one in our office. It ate lots of shiny slick paper. About two-thirds of the way down each page was a large black line about an inch from side to side. We knew we were on to something great. How can you beat six minutes a page? Surely, we had reached man’s limits with respect to technology.
When the internet first surfaced (thank you, Al Gore), I remember telling a colleague it was a passing fad. As I recall, Bill Gates said something similar at that time. Because of my accumulated technological expertise gained over a lifetime of intense study, our office manager came to call me Modem Man. That was a rank I wore proudly.
It’s been a long technological journey for me. Thanks to a lot of hard work, I am now able to turn my desktop computer on and off, cut and paste copy for my weekly blog and send a text message on my phone. At last I understand the difference between FacedIn and LinkBook. It hasn’t been easy, but I have persevered. Modem Man is alive and well and catching up.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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