augusta free press news

Jim Bishop: It’s hard to keep pace with the Cyberspace Race

Column by Jim Bishop

Here I am, geographically separated from my office, composing on a laptop computer that I was given – almost unexpectedly – the compact unit running on battery power with a wireless connection to wherever the signal goes before an electronic communiqué is sent on to the designated recipient (at least, I hope so).

I fired up the laptop in another building on campus to familiarize myself with its features and usage. However, an Information Systems staffer had to come to my aid before I logged on successfully. Seems I hadn’t undocked the laptop unit properly, and the IS server apparently thought an unauthorized user was trying to invade my cyberspace.

As a youngster, in medieval times, I was once the proud owner of a Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio. Imaginary messages were sent by talking into the plastic unit to my cousin, Chuck Bishop, some distance away, but usually still within earshot. It was a step up from tin cans connected by a string – which preceded Detective Dick’s state-of-the-art unit, but in both cases, we really thought we were cool.

Now, the ability to send and receive messages almost instantly, from one room to another or around the world, is a way of life, the norm, almost taken for granted, even as the technology continues to evolve.

While sitting at the keyboard and musing on what hath God wrought, I note that every other person walking by has his or her hand held up to their ear, talking away on a cell phone. Are all these conversations really necessary, I wonder, but who am I to say?

Those with computer access are a privileged lot. The ClickZ web site ( estimates that about 17.6 percent of the 6.5 billion members of the world community use the Internet. Yet, most of us operate on the assumption that virtually everyone else is online for most of their waking hours.

My wife teaches kindergarten at the new Cub Run Elementary School in Eastern Rockingham County. Her 19 five-year-olds have several computers to use in her classroom. Anna demonstrated for me the Smartboard that fills a large space on a classroom wall. With a few commands, she can project material from her desk onto the screen or write copy with a stylus over information being projected onto the board and then “erase” it instantly. Overhead transparencies, opaque projectors and 16mm film are a distant memory.

Anna’s young charges know nothing about pre-computer, pre-digital days. They can work a remote control before they speak complete sentences. They can master at least basic computer skills before they can print their name and master video games that yokels like me can only watch in awe and wonder, how do they do that?

I’m sure I’ve asked aloud before: what did we do at our desks before personal computers occupied a major portion of our waking, working hours?

When did you last receive a handwritten letter from someone? I miss receiving the occasional personal messages on a cheery note card from my 87-year-old mom in Pennsylvania is no longer able to pen. I still write her, enclosing several recent columns, but she’s the only person I send letters to anymore – and my handwriting shows it. Mom never did log on to the computer generation, and she complains on the phone that “I can’t ever tell you any news because you already got it on an email from one of your brothers.”

Regardless of computer hassles and potential crashes, I don’t want to go back to a typewriter, blank paper and a bottle of White Out, even though my faithful IBM Selectric II still occupies a spot in my office and remains on standby, still handy for completing forms or for attaching a note to some document sent in campus mail.

I finally own and use a cell phone (it’s come to my rescue a number of times in the past months), send photos electronically around town and around the world, Google subjects frequently – constantly amazed that one can quickly find web sites and articles on practically any topic under the ecclesiastical sun. But, I continue to hold off on invitations to join Myspace or personal blogs and shun listserves other than a couple that are helpful to my work. I see too many people for whom the Internet has become an addiction.

I believe it vital to our well-being that we view the computer and its technological progeny as a servant, not a master, of our lives. At the same time, I want to be open to learning new things that will help me to do my daily work more efficiently and effectively.

See, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Good boy!