Jeff Hammer: My grudging respect for new technology

Readers of this column will no doubt remember my writing of my disdain for the flood of new technology that seems to constantly wash into our daily lives from every direction, but that assessment is not the whole picture of my feelings toward the improvements made with respect to the onslaught of new technologies over the past few decades or so.

My teaching career began during the fall of 1989, and I spent the first five years of my career having never touched a computer. When I secured a 5th grade position at Fort Washakie School for the 1994-1995 school year, the mandatory expectation was that grades were to be entered into a computer and then the software would do the work to compute a final grade for the nine week period and eventually the semester.

With zero experience using a computer (I didn’t even know how to turn one on.), this expectation caused a tremendous amount of anxiety for me. Thankfully, my paraprofessional knew how the program operated and spent many hours patiently showing me how to do my job with respect to everything computers. My initial distrust of computers caused me to keep handwritten backup grades in a spiral gradebook similar to those used by teachers for many decades before then just for that purpose. They are gradebooks that will qualify as museum pieces in the not too distant future.


And in every school and every classroom in which I have worked since then, a computer has been a necessary and important part of my professional life, but the curmudgeon in me has grumbled through every new technology requirement thrust my way. 

For many years, it was my practice to spend a couple of hours at school on Sunday evenings in order to finalize my lesson plans for the week and to make sure I was prepared as I could be for the next day. About fifteen years ago, I came back to my North Elementary classroom one Sunday evening from either a winter break or spring break, I can’t remember which, to make those preparations, and discovered that in my absence, a new interactive Smartboard had been installed at its front, where I would normally write with a marker on the whiteboard.

Not being given any previous notice that a Smartboard was headed my way, I was a little shocked at it being there, and my next thought was an incredulous, “What am I supposed to do with that thing?”

Turns out, a few months later, after some training by a very patient school district technology instructor, I wondered how I got along without one for so many years. They are now, and have been from their initial use, a very valuable teaching tool in the classroom, an indispensable one, in my opinion.

When cell phones originally came on the scene a few decades ago, the craze with which many Americans embraced this new technology seemed to me then to be a little too much like a fad. Yeah, it’s popular today, but what about five years from now? I mean, we have survived, even thrived as a civilization, for centuries without calling anyone from anywhere, just for the heck of it. Maybe, I thought, people will just lose patience with the possibility of being interrupted at the most inconvenient time, and decide all that connectedness is more of a pain in our collective backsides than we are willing to tolerate…and then there is the inconvenience of having to find a place on one’s person to store the darn thing.


Never underestimate the perseverance and ingenuity of a motivated populace. Who knew, three decades ago, that the back pocket on a set of jeans would be the perfect size for one to holster the sixgun of the Twenty-first Century.

Well, it’s obvious now that very few people felt the same as I. Not only do we not mind being disturbed, many of us seem to fall into a panic when we aren’t interrupted as often as we apparently need to be in order to feel “liked.” 

Can you say “insecurity?”

The first cell phone with internet capability came online in 1996, and since then cell phone use has never been the same. The idea of having internet access in the palm of your hand was a little too much for me to think about…so I didn’t; but it seems most folks cannot do without it. 

My small flip phone doesn’t have access to the internet and won’t if I have any say in the matter, but I must make a concession that such power is useful. When traveling, my wife’s cell phone has saved us a tremendous amount of stress, especially when our flight plans have been altered by the airlines or when we are driving through unfamiliar territory and Siri tells me where and which way to turn to arrive at our desired destination. 

A recent example of that gift was a couple of months ago when my wife and I were leaving our younger daughter’s home in Wellington, Colorado after a very pleasant visit, to drive to our older daughter’s home in Madison, Wisconsin, where we were expecting the same outcome. But first we wanted to travel through a portion of Kansas to take in a few National Historic Sites on an indirect route that would eventually lead us into Nebraska, Iowa, and then Wisconsin. The map of Colorado from my daughter’s atlas indicated we could travel directly east across Interstate 25 from Wellington, and make a few farmland right angle turns to eventually access a major two lane highway to Nicodemus National Historic Site. 

The problem occurred less than ten minutes into our trip, soon after we crossed the interstate and the frontage road in an easterly direction. About a hundred yards later we came to a “T” intersection where we had to choose to proceed either left or right. This intersection was not shown on the map, but my inclination was to turn right, which was totally against my long standing mantra of “when in doubt always turn left.”

Wisely, my wife suggested we ask Siri. She instructed, in her usual non judgemental tone, to drive back to the frontage road, turn north for a quarter of a mile, and then east and “proceed to the route.” Which is what we did, and in short order, we were back on track. Had we stuck with my initial impulse, I have no doubt the outcome would have been much different and much worse. It’s never pleasant to experience an escalating level of frustration in an enclosed space with a long day in front of you with someone who knows you at least as well as you know yourself.

However, the most recent example of today’s indispensable need of cell phones was on our recent trip to Europe for a river cruise. My wife spent many hours before the trip, with both a computer and cell phone, sometimes using them simultaneously performing what seemed to me like some kind of online voodooism making arrangements for the cruise itself and to satisfy Covid requirements for airports, the airlines and the cruise line. 

The whole process indicated to me that it’s not possible anymore to travel internationally without a computer in one’s pocket, and my desire for the world to be different is only wishful thinking. 

On the plane ride back to the United States, I watched a western made in 1970 starring John Wayne and Dean Martin titled Rio Bravo. The movie was set in Texas, along the border with Mexico, near what is now Big Bend National Park. It is an area with which I am somewhat familiar. As one would expect, there was not a cell phone nor a computer in the whole movie, and no animation either, thank goodness.  Briefly, I was transported back in time to the early 1970’s when I am sure I watched this same movie at the Grand Theater in Lander, where the price of admission was well under a dollar for a twelve year old. It was two hours living in the past. Priceless.

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