20130302

Louie Crew


A Cyber Tale

When Bell invented the telephone, someone asked him what he might do with it. "Call ahead to tell someone your telegram is on the way," he replied, no tongue in cheek.

Mark Twain used one of the earliest "computers" but tried to hide the fact lest some think that he let the typewriter do his thinking for him.

I bought my first computer in January 1983, an Osborne. It was a portable, weighed 24 pounds (or was it 26?) , and when closed, it looked like a sewing machine case. It cost $2,000. I sold great-grandmother's calendar clock (always with a snuff can on it) to pay for it. It had a tiny screen and only 64K of ram. When I taught in Beijing (1983-84), Customs tried to prevent my bringing it in saying it was a 'spy machine.' Fortunately they accepted my explanation, "No, it's a Hollywood typewriter."

BC (Before the Computer), whenever someone showed up at the door asking for me, my husband would say, "Just a minute. He's working in the study." After the computer, he said, "Just a minute. He's in the study playing with the computer." At first I was annoyed until my mini-epiphany: what magic to transform work into play. I had not had the machine more than a month when my husband said quite presciently, "This machine is going to change your life."

For several years now Ernest has used a computer far more than I do. Three Christmases back he gave me an iPod, which currently stores 16 books in queue. Hidden in the closet is my Christmas gift for him, a Kindle. Today I will install a Roku XD, which will reduce our Netflix monthly bill from $19.99 to $7.99 and allow all our choices to play on our TV.

Do not misunderstand me. I treasure old ways of doing things like the best of them. I have plenty of old books in which to press flowers, and I love them, as I love Mother's Victorian dining room set. My favorite machine ever was my old IBM Selectrix typewriter. After my first computer, I kept the Selectrix for several years using it only to address envelopes.

When I chaired Rutgers University senate (1997-99), a dean complained to me that he had not received a copy of the document we were discussing.

"But we sent it to you by email," I said.

"I don't read email," he replied.

"Rutgers has spent thousands of dollars so that we can communicate electronically," I explained. "If you prefer to ride to work on your horse, that is entirely your right, but do not expect Rutgers to provide either a groom or a hitching post. You might ask your secretary to read your email."

He did.


Louie Crew, 76, is an Alabama native and an emeritus professor at Rutgers. He lives in East Orange, NJ, with Ernest Clay, his husband of 39 years.
 
 
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