Friday, March 18, 2005

Missing the technology boat

Sometimes I think about what might have been, if I'd just been born a few years later--say 1972. Actually maybe 1976. When I see all the great stuff that's going on--and has been going on--in the technology world, I feel a little left out. Which is odd given that I work in a technology field. I do know a lot about technology. I taught myself html and css (both need some work). I learned enough php to get by editing scripts that other people write for me (yay web guy and language guy). I can work any software program you put in front of me in no time. I've learned video editing software of all stripes, dreamweaver, photoshop, fireworks, gimp, audacity, cleaner, and on and on. And I'm always looking for new software. I can work on any platform: Mac, Linux, Windows. I can even do Unix. And I love, love the internet. But my knowledge is not very deep. This actually serves me well in my current position. I never know what kind of problem someone is going to present me with and I can think about all the the things I know about and come up with a solution that is likely to work well for someone who's not that good at technology.

So why do I feel I've missed the boat when I seem to be so technologically proficient? Because I think there could be more. I've always felt a bit behind the curve, kind of like missing the wave (to mix my metaphors). I did take a computer science class in undergrad, but nearly failed (it was at 8 a.m.; I'm not a morning person). It was mostly about the innards (motherboard, processor, etc.) which went right over my head at the time, and business applications (spreadsheets, databases). There was no programming, no thinking about how computers can be used to solve problems. And, there was no internet.* There was no sense that computers could one day bring far-flung people together. Five years later, there would have been much more to offer, a real computer science major.

On to graduate school in creative writing where I actually wrote a lot about science, math and computer science. (I was dating Mr. Geeky and hanging out with the Math babes). I joined newsgroups and listservs. I lied on a job application to get a job doing a computerized layout for a conference proceeding and a series of newsletters. My first day on the job, I read the manual. The next day, I started laying out stuff taken from all formats of floppies. I was basically immersed in technology and loving it. But not loving my program so much. I quit and got a corporate job. Just three years after I quit, the school began a master's program in Instructional Technology. Before I left, I actually investigated getting a Ph.D. in Education. It was just a little too early to see what was coming and how I might fit in.

Though the corporate job had nothing to do with computers, I ended up 1) proposing a dramatic change in our computer system that would move us from a terminal-based system to a pc-based system and 2) doing almost all the training on computer use. Again, a little later in the game, I might have shifted to the IS department.

And then, the next go around in graduate school after spending a year at home, learning html btw, and generally really experiencing the internet. Used the web in every class I taught. Taught in computer classrooms. Really thought about (and wrote about) teaching with technology. Taught other graduate students how to do html. This is what I was really excited about--the effect of technology on teaching, on the lives of my students. Unfortunately, no degree program in composition/rhetoric. Had to focus all my research energy on Renaissance literature, which I truly enjoyed but was not passionate about in the same way.

So here's the path I envision that might have been. I think I still would have gotten my undergraduate degree in Creative Writing (that, too, was a passion). But I might have minored in CS or I might have gotten a Ph.D. in Compositon/Rhetoric with a focus on technology issues or I might have gotten a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology. I know I probably could have stuck my neck out a little, especially in the last round of grad school and could have construction my own program. But I just didn't. It didn't occur to me to do so. I also know that I could still get a Ph.D. But I don't have the energy for it now. There's too many other interesting things to do. I know what getting a Ph.D. takes and I just don't have it in me right now. Someone visiting my lab from Columbia University once asked me why I didn't have a Master's or Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and I simply said, "I came along too late in the game." He seemed to understand, being a little older than me.

It's funny how all these little things add up to take you down the path you end up going down. I did make conscious decisions all along the way, but new paths were being built after I'd passed the turnoffs. When I was being interviewed for this job more than 2 years ago, I was asked, "Why this job? Why now?" I quoted Robert Frosts poem, "The Road Not Taken." I was taking this path now, but I have a different way of reading the ending:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I have always thought of the ending as triumphant: "My life is great because I took a path different from everyone else." To some extent, that may be true in my case, but there is the sigh, the resigned notion of being unable to go back. Although for me, there were many divergings and, as I said, divergings that opened behind me, there is still the "what if . . ." As I get older, I feel both a twinge of regret and a bit of triumph, never completely one or the other.

*Technically, the internet existed, but was not widely available, certainly not at my tiny liberal arts college.