the view at 65 is worth it

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A long entry about back to school challenges

(from my online group discussion on Grant's "technological dependency").
If my 2010 online graduate study does anything at all, besides the acquisition of knowledge, it keeps alive ( at least in me ) the tension between traditional study and research with “warm” books and paper, and the “cold” techniques of computer mastery.
Many of the skills required for this online course were in some form or other pre-existent, such as typing. After all, I had an electric typewriter back in the 70’s and my first computer sat staring at me as long ago as 1987. DOS. Brrrr. Like hypertext later on. Bizarro. But, I still “hit” my keys as if it’s a manual Underwood typewriter, and my skills of using more that two fingers is as yet undeveloped.
I decided with my summer elective course to do all the work paperless, at least to the best of my ability. Rather than spreading books and essays all around my desk, I choose to read everything on my glaring 24 inch screen. No special task-lighting to feel very comfortable. Now all the lights in my study are on, to balance the brightness of the computer flat-screen.
A major adjustment was learning to read documents online, especially pdf files, printed in “mice-type.” The golden rule of intelligible typography is called the “book face,” and its minimum size is 12 pt. Hard to find these days, when a lot of text is as small as 10 pt. type.
Squinting, bending forwards, adjusting reading glasses, etc, may seem trivial, but they are part of my adjustment to online study.
Indirect contact with my writing, using a mouse (just can’t handle that itty-bitty finger pad), is a step backwards from real-time, real contact between pen and paper. I bought a large tablet not long ago. It sits in my closet collecting dust. I can still draw faster and better with a pencil, than I can with all those intermediaries between my brain and a “paper-like” visual surface. Maybe I’ll give the tablet to my godchild. She’s young but she’s an avid and computer-savvy anime artist. I still write and edit my poetry first-hand longhand, and only transcribe into a digital file later.
And if computers have any “life” at all, it is a clandestine conspiracy to mess with my head, every step of the way. A pen, a pencil, I have mastered them, but Microsoft Word? I know how to type, cut, paste, edit, save etc, and I’m fairly proficient. Have to be in order to have any peace while writing epic poetry and my third novel in progress.
But, all the time, there’s this invisible techno-wizard who keeps changing at random my font from Arial to Times New Roman, from medium to bold, and from black text to grey. Not to mention those arbitrary margin changes and indents, or the bullets I never asked for. I try hard not to hit two keys at a time ( God help those with Blackberries ), but sometimes even the best of keyboards are too small for my flying two-finger typing. Then suddenly, without warning, the screen freezes and I panic because I haven’t saved my writing as yet. Sometimes, even the toolbar with file, edit, view, insert, format, tools, table, window, and help, are still a mystery. When I turned 65, my children bought me a Staples-brand large calculator, 12 X 19 inches. Awesome.

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