Then and Now…and Tomorrow

For several years I have been researching my great great grandfather, Henry Martin, and his early career as a “stenographer”.  Fascinated by the influence of what was then cutting edge communications, I learned a great deal about the training, tools and technology he used beginning in the 1880′s and to his “retirement by death” from a Wall Street firm in 1932.

My grown children had all purchased iPads and had encouraged me to do the same to improve the way I work in the field.  The argument was strong and I am an enthusiastic technology geek despite my age.

Phone BoothI was musing about this enticing thought as I was driving along the PA turnpike today.  Full of arguments pro and con…won and lost, I pulled up to the toll booth…exact cash ready…though why I don’t have  EZPass still eludes me…and what caught my eye was the shell of a phone booth…just the shell…isolated, askew, faded blue, rust pocked, battered and stripped of the iconic pay phone. At its base…among the glittering shards of glass and a choke of weeds….glossy, caramel-hued ribbons of audio tape billowed in the breeze created by the passing traffic. I thought it was an unintentional shrine to abandoned technologies….   In twenty years….what ghostly reminder will be there for my grandchildren as they ponder what media and communications their grandmother thought of as cutting edge and what they think of as quaint….???

I now own an iPad and have succumbed to its siren call…FaceBook, email…and, yes, research are all integrated into this new working relationship.   I bought a bluetooth keypad…I still need to hammer away at something.  The delicate touch type screen is still a bit eery and remote for me.  What will I do when we are all swiping away at the air a la “The Minority Report”?

I suppose my great great grandfather found the changes in his world as heady and compelling as I do the changes in mine.  He began working in a telegraph office in Auburn, New York with his brother, Ernest in the late 1800′s.  Genesee Street was lined with poles, each with a dizzying number of crossbars that held the transformers and wires.  It wasn’t long before telephones were part of everyday business life…not quite readily installed in every household, but those days were certainly to come.  Henry might look at my mobile phone…and my iPad with wonder.  We are all so instantly and continually connected.

On the other hand, Henry could walk down the street to pick up the trolley from Brooklyn to his Wall Street office lost in his own thoughts with no angst that he wasn’t responding to texts and emails and phone calls.  In fact,  it is likely that he nodded a friendly greeting to his fellow pedestrians…browsed a shop window or two…whistled along the street and pondered the day ahead.  Perhaps jostling with other passengers on the trolley, he gazed down at the East River flowing beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and simply daydreamed.

I do love the productivity our current day technology provides.  It makes my work more mobile and I can be anywhere and accomplish a great deal.  It also makes me beholden 24/7 and that is such a game changer.  Where are you?  Fiji?   Relaxing?  Are you kidding?  I need something NOW!  Could you please put down the suntan lotion and minimize your e-book and help me out?  I meant to call you six months ago…but I forgot and now it’s an emergency and…and…and.

Henry…what do you say?   Is this too much of a good thing?

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Research

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

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