Another birthday has come and gone, with all the characteristic bad grace that my birthdays always entail. It started that time in the second grade when I invited allllllll the little girls in my class to my party and none of them showed up. Insults to me and my person range from the mundane (that time when my lunch date forgot his wallet, so I had to pay for my own birthday meal and his, too) to the catastrophic (that time when I was still reeling from my ex-boyfriend’s suicide attempt—y’know the one I mean, the one with the explosion and the fire and the innocent victims and the prison time, I think I mentioned it here once) but my birthdays invariably find some way to be unpleasant.
I’m not feeling particularly older. I still look basically the same, except for having blue choppy hair. (No pictures yet, sorry.) My mental and physical facilities have not degenerated. Granted, my physical facilities have never been all that impressive, but if I cannot run a marathon at age twenty-nine, I take solace from knowing that I couldn’t run a marathon at age twenty.
What does make me feel older is the realization that I’ve been working professionally for five years. I got my master’s degree in 2005, and ten years ago I was finishing up my first year of college. This is, and I do not use the word lightly, impossible.
Three and a half years of that professional career has been here in Wilhelmsplatz. This too is impossible. When I was first hired, I felt guilty that I was drawing the superior salary of a Librarian II position, when in all honesty I didn’t feel like my work was harder than that of a Librarian I. I never felt so guilty as to ask HR to adjust my pay downward, but rest assured that it was a terrible burden on my soul.
All of us in Reference work spend approximately 40% of our time on the public service desk. The rest of that time we spend on different projects. As the Electronic Resources Librarian, part of that time is necessarily spent with databases and computer instruction, but there are plenty of other projects to occupy my time—collection development and readers’ advisory and writing for our book blog and recataloging graphic novels. All of the librarians are busy with behind-the-scenes activities.
Lately, however, my guilt about my salary has evaporated. This is too bad. Guilt is my favorite emotion. I am a guilt connoisseur. I am a superb feeler of guilt, and forgive my lack of modesty, but I must boast that my ability to feel guilt has been honed to such an exacting degree that I can and do feel personal responsibility for the burning of Rome and propagation of the Bubonic Plague.
But try as I might, I can no longer muster the energy to feel guilt about the extra money I’m paid to be an Electronic Resources Librarian. My job has become much more difficult since I started, noticably in the last year. This is because the library’s role in computer instruction has started to consume my life. Computer instruction has been an important element of public library service for the past twenty years or so, but lately my library has been doing a lot more, be it at the reference desk or in formal classroom settings.
I will freely admit that this is partly my own fault, and in fact I will probably talk it to death if I ever get a job interview. I have made extra efforts to recruit instructors, to offer a wide variety of classes, to accommodate the needs of the patrons who avail themselves of our public computers.
More than anything, though, the need for computer instruction is increasing due to societal factors beyond my control. When I first graduated from library school lo these many years ago, I figured that computer use was already ubiquitous, that it had already invaded the work lives and leisure hours of, essentially, everybody.
Apparently I was mistaken. When I first started teaching classes here, the students were primarily older white folks who had a passing interest in using a computer. That group is still there, but these days I’m seeing more and more variety in terms of age and race, and country of origin, too.
The recession surely is playing a role. If you had a nice job in contruction through the 90s and early 2000s, you might have never needed to touch a computer. But if you lost that nice job and needed a new source of income, you’d realize that you couldn’t even bag groceries without filling in an online form—which you can’t do, I might point out, without an email account, and I might further point out that you can’t get an email account if you don’t know how to read a captcha.
This evening I taught Intro to Word. When I teach it, I usually go over elementary formatting options, things like changing your typeface or bulleting your lists—but that can’t be taught without concurrently teaching general computer skills. It’s easy to change a typeface after you’ve highlighted a word, but first you have to know how to highlight. And it’s not essential to know about Copy & Paste to use Word, but gosh, it helps.
I feel bad for the people who don’t know how to use computers. I feel really, really bad for them. (Also guilty.) Computer use is no longer a luxury. It is part and parcel of modern life. It has transformed the way we communicate in a way that has only been seen once before, when Gutenberg printed a Bible.
I am not the first person to draw the parallel between personal computing and movable type. It’s not so often you get two worldwide communication revolutions, they’re sort of noticable. But it’s easy to look to the past: what about the future? What will be the next technology to offer radical improvements in the communication of thought?
I have an answer already: telepathy.
Really. Where else do we have to go? We already have the world’s recorded information available at hand: it’s online, it’s been televised, it’s been written in a book somewhere. Only catch is that first someone has to put it online or film it or publish it. That’s a chore unto itself, and then you have to consider that a lot of good information never gets recorded at all.
Mind-reading would fix everything. No one would have to record their thoughts, because they’d be instantly and automatically available for viewing, and no one would be able to censor out things you needed to know. This would have universal and immediate impact, most notably in that everyone would be able to find out for sure who exactly was willing to sleep with them.
Five hundred years separate Gutenberg and the internet, so I figure we’ve got another five hundred years before we’re all reading each other’s minds. Well honestly I can’t see it happening at all, in five hundred years or five thousand, and furthermore I was being completely facetious, it’d be just awful if everyone had telepathic powers, but if it ever does come to pass I hope that people have flying cars. If you’ve got to have your privacy completely annihilated, I think you should at least get a flying car as a consolation prize.