Published 7:33 PM EDT May 13, 2020
As a kid, I remember my grandfather vowing he’d never have one of those new-fangled televisions. He was adamant about that. Until he discovered that he could watch his beloved baseball with it.
That may be my earliest memory of my own journey through the technological changes of my lifetime. It’s obviously a very similar saga to those of many folks of roughly retirement age.
I’d like to randomly highlight a few more of those changes and memories with an emphasis on some of the particular tools of my career fields (mathematics, education). Roll the highlight reel!
As a high school senior, I got my first slide rule! We were given lessons on how to use it, as well as how not to use it (they were so imprecise!). Those of us who carried them were considered nerds, perhaps rightly so. (Decades later, I always found that ironic, as those who carried around much-more-precise-and-useful slide rules, aka calculators, were considered lazy and allowing their use in class was considered sinful.)
After a six-month stint at Fort Knox, I worked briefly at an actuarial firm in downtown St. Louis before heading off to grad school. A huge adding machine sat conspicuously on my desk. This behemoth had countless rows of endless push-buttons, along with a bulky bar that moved back and forth across the top of the machine to display its answers. My lasting memories are of how it seemed to literally “grind out” arithmetic answers and how distinctly non-quiet it was.
Years later, upon arrival at my first job here in the Ozarks, I learned that the college library was the proud owner of one $75 four-function (only!) calculator that students could use. It was so valuable that it was kept chained to a table near the library’s entrance.
Approximately a decade later, I got my first desktop computer. I remember that as the years went on, I discovered I became a better writer (editing was so much easier!) and that end-semester grading got much faster (spreadsheets are amazing!).
It wasn’t until roughly half a career and one job change later that I got my first email account. Business communication and planning became so much more efficient, but I’m struck by how quickly that platform is already diminishing, as cellphones continue to take over nearly all walks of life.
Speaking of cellphones, I humorously realize that as they began to emerge, I subconsciously began to channel my grandfather. I was not going to need, want or get a cellphone! Soon, as I began to commute daily to MSU, I decided it might not hurt, and I got an already-obsolete bag phone. (I recall one of my students saying — with the weirdest hint of affection — “Campbell, you are so un-hip!”). Gradually, that yielded to a flip phone, then (over my almost-dead body) a smartphone. I still don’t fully utilize it, but don’t try to take it from me.
And on it goes, repeatedly, right up to the present. Heck, I even managed to coordinate a Zoom Mother’s Day meeting with the kids!
As the lights come up and you recall your own memories, let’s mention one pertinent takeaway.
As technology changes, we are always in the middle of an evolution, not a revolution. Consequently, we are always in danger of becoming our grandparents on some issue. This isn’t necessarily bad, but in education, we must always acknowledge this perspective and adapt to help our students. What’s in store for them, as their technology memory tours evolve, and are we helping prepare them for their brave new worlds?
Larry Campbell is emeritus professor of mathematics education at Missouri State University. His latest book, “Spitballs from the Back Row” (Oghma Creative Media) is a collection of these columns. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org