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Technology August 2019

Sam's Side

Trusting Tech

By Sam Beeson

My skepticism isn’t so much with the technology, it is with the people who put the information out there to be gathered.

I remember as a kid watching my father “do the books.” Dad had his own business.  I would watch him sitting at the kitchen table with ledgers open, glasses on, and that big old heavy metal calculator that made the “cha-chung” sound whenever anything was totaled up. The machine fascinated me. What I was learning to do in school and calculate on pencil and paper, it could do with the push of a button (actually, I think in this particular machine you had to pull a lever).

I didn’t know much about bookkeeping or bill paying or any of the million things that make adulting so much fun, but in my own way, I could tell if things were good or bad by how my dad would operate the machine. Usually, I had no clue about what much of it meant. All I knew is that I wanted to play with his adding machine. Looking back, I could have figured out how things were going because I was only allowed to play with about 1 or 2 feet worth of “adding machine roll paper.” After all, as I was informed, paper costs money.

So imagine how exciting it was for me when digital calculators first came out. Suddenly, not only could these machines be carried around in my dad’s briefcase or even his shirt pocket, there was no wasteful paper that had to be inserted. I was free to play with his calculator any time he wasn’t using it. Not only could this digital wonder of modern technology add, subtract, multiply and divide, it could also do percentages and “negative numbers” (which were still pretty confusing to me).

During this time, we were going to the moon and Star Trek seemed like a distinct possibility that I would see in my lifetime. We even had a 16-inch color TV in our living room with a “remote control” that made a loud “clang” sound when you pushed a button. Technology was thrilling to my young mind.

I remember one night, shortly after my dad retired that Model T calculator of his in favor of the new digital variety, watching him do the books. I was amused to see him punch in some numbers, look at the display screen with a frown, and then pull out a piece of paper and a pencil to calculate the same problem. He did this numerous times over the next few months until he was finally able to start trusting this new technology. I laughed then, and I smile sweetly now at the thought.  But I don’t laugh. Because I get it.

As I am typing this, here on my home computer that has virtually every bit of human knowledge in existence at my fingertips, I look to my left and see a bookshelf filled with encyclopedias. The newest of these volumes were from the mid- to late-1970s. And although they are obsolete by any standards, I can’t part with them. I’m sentimental and my parents gave me these books to help with my education. And they were well and truly used to that end.

But I think the bigger reason is, I have the same skepticism as my father had when he simply couldn’t believe what that digital contraption was saying. Now you might think that I still go to these books from time to time to research whatever topic might arouse my curiosity. But I don’t. I doubt if one has been opened in 20 years or more.

My skepticism isn’t so much with the technology, it is with the people who put the information out there to be gathered.

Any idiot can start a web page and claim to be a historian, or a scientist, or simply the next Einstein. And unfortunately, a lot of people buy it. If I do a web search “Did we land on the moon,” I am just as likely to find websites that claim we didn’t as opposed to those that say we did. (We did….by the way). The web is a fertile breeding ground for ridiculous conspiracy
theories and pseudo-science from all forms of thought. Forget the moon landing hoax conspiracy, there are those who will swear that the Earth is flat. And unfortunately, someone who may not be sophisticated, or trained in critical thought, might read that crap and be convinced.

So yes, I have a very healthy skepticism when it comes to tech. Not necessarily to the tech itself, but to those who would use it to promote lies. Technology is only as good as those who use it. If my dad had punched in the wrong numbers in his calculators, mechanical or digital, then the answers could be as wrong as reading on some flat-Earth web page their arguments that “bust the globe theory.”

And as much as I hate to say it, I have seen this firsthand. I recognize it is an anecdotal story, but at my work the younger people are far more willing to embrace “conspiracy theories” than their older peers. Of course, this is not always the case, but I have seen it enough that it gives me pause. Further, I’m sure we have all seen on Facebook friends or family who pass along ridiculous memes that are either grossly untrue, or at best, take an element of truth and blow it out of proportion.

I credit my years on this earth for my skepticism. I’ve seen and experienced a lot. I know that you can’t trust “THEM,” but I also know that you can’t trust “US” as well. If something sounds too unbelievable to be true, it probably isn’t. Likewise, just because you read something that agrees with your world view, doesn’t mean it’s correct.

So yes, I credit my age for my skepticism, but I also credit my dad, who used to look at something that just didn’t seem right, and so to verify, would rely on his own more primitive, yet somehow more reliable methods.


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