Old man and old manual typewriter.

Becoming Howard

When I started my career as a journalist at a metropolitan daily newspaper nearly 30 years ago, we were just making the transition from electric typewriters to word processors. As you might expect, this was a fairly significant transition -- especially for the Old Guard, like Howard.

Howard had been with the newspaper since... well, pretty much since Gutenberg came up with the idea for the printing press. He had hawked newspapers on the street as a kid, and started out as a cub reporter during the Great Depression. They say he dragged his feet when they wanted to replace his manual typewriter with an electric version in the 1960s, and when the time came to replace is beloved Selectric with a computer keyboard he absolutely refused. He continued to type his stories and gave them to a secretary to input them into the computer.

We youngsters used to joke about Howard's technological reticence -- behind his back, of course. By this time, Howard was pretty much iconic at the newspaper and nobody wanted to risk offending him. Besides, he was such a cute little old guy. I still smile when I think of him, hunched over his typewriter, his huge, thick glasses pushed up and perched on his head, clackety-clacking out a story while the rest of us tap-tapped our way along the electronic superhighway.

I tell you this because it has recently come to my attention that somehow during the last 30 years I have become Howard. I have embraced a lot of change and technological advancement through the years, but I guess I've reached the point at which my brain has finally said: enough!

I first became aware of my Howard-ish-ness when my wife, Anita, got one of those new cell phones that allow you to take pictures, make movies, access the Internet and re-program sub-orbital ballistic missiles -- all with just the gentle touch of an application button.

I scoffed at the technological overload she carried with her in her purse. Although I must admit, I was pleased when she programmed her phone to play the Indiana Jones theme when I call. I was expecting something more along the lines of "What Kind of Fool Am I?"

"I just need a cell phone that lets me make and receive telephone calls -- period!" I said. "Anything more than that is technological overkill and probably dangerous to the ozone layer."

Then my office provided ME with one of these new phones. And now I'm hooked. I'm constantly responding to email and text messages and looking things up on the Internet. You never know when you're going to need to know the name of the Iron Butterfly drummer who played the long drum solo in "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (by the way it was Ron Bushy.)

Then a few weeks ago we took a long road trip, which would take us to some places we had never before been. We Map-Quested some directions and thought that was as good as it gets. But then our future-son-in-law Hudson got in the car with his GPS unit, and again I scoffed.

"I can read a map," I said. "I don't need some robot telling me where to turn."

Turns out I do.

I was stunned by how smoothly we made it through territory that was new to us. We had to go to a reception in a rural area with lots of crazy twists and turns in the road, and our little GPS friend guided us safely and calmly through it. It even figured out an alternative route when I missed a turn. By the end of the evening I was totally reliant on the new technology, and even whined a little when it went for long periods of time without talking to me.

So I guess I'm understanding Howard a little better these days. And I'm understanding the words of James M. Barrie, the author who created the stories of Peter Pan, the boy who never wanted to get old. Said Barrie: "Life is a long lesson in humility."

Especially if you're resistant to change.

Technologically, and otherwise.

~ Joseph Walker ~
Copyright © 2009

Joseph Walker began his professional writing career as a staff writer for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, eventually becoming that newspaper's television and live theater critic. Since 1990 he has written a weekly newspaper column called ValueSpeak, which has appeared in more than 200 newspapers nationally. His published books include How Can You Mend A Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World for Deseret Book, The Mission: Inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for Warner Books and three ghost-writing projects.  Please take a minute to let Joe know what you think of his story:  Joseph Walker
[ by: Joseph Walker Copyright © 2009 ( ValueSpeak@msn.com ) -- {used with permission} ]

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