Thursday, August 21, 2008

Laptops

In the spring of my Junior year, I decided that I could not longer bear being shackled to my pale Dell desktop and that I needed the freedom that only a laptop to provide. I had a summer job as a research assistant lined up, which would require hours spent typing up files of information from the university archives. I had amassed the cash and the odd VC desire to simultaneously laze on the grass outside while checking Livejournal.

With my excuses in good order, I sat down to configure a new system and then promptly turned the keyboard over to my then boyfriend. What sort of processor did I need? Graphics card? Memory capacity? Did it have wireless? My eyes blurred, my stomach turned, and I decided it was better to "let someone else deal with it". I handed the task over to my then-boyfriend and took on the massive Dell laptop on whose screen this entry currently appears.

Please do not misunderstand and label me a Luddite (especially since I have nothing to do with the textile industry). I love technology. You cannot imagine the depths of despair I can reach when my IPod runs out juice. I cannot imagine life before Wikipedia or IMDB (how did people solve arguments?). I adore jet engines, electronic databases, the beautiful scanner/fax/copier at work, and all of the wonderment that is the medical field.

Technology can be a wonderful and intensely useful thing, but there's a side of it, complex and dark and filled with sparking wires, that I simply cannot face. Today I sat down in front of my work desktop with the goal of buying a new laptop for my grad program. I had reviewed the tech requirements on the program's website and knew sort of what I needed from talking with my iPeer. I worked on the assumption that a big hard drive is good, memory essential, Vista is icky but I'll probably have to get it anyway, and that I cannot be bothered to configure a Mac for use with my grad program. I have been rather underwhelmed by my Dell laptop and have a nice discount through the IBM employee program (Thanks, Dad!), so Lenovo won.

After putzing about and annoying my husband, I pinged a wonderful coworker of mine for help. She's the systems/tech librarian, sat down and helped me configure the laptop I needed and then ran it against another online deal she had spotted. Twenty minutes later I punched in my credit card number (though no one really needs to punch nowadays, do they? Keyboards are far more sophisticated... or is it referring to punch cards?) and I'm now checking the website every three minutes to see if it's shipped yet.

The above is partially why I'm terrified of entering a field that is becoming increasingly entwined with advances in technology. Though I haven't any problems with software or playing around with software or breaking software. It's the hardware that's scary and expensive and difficult to recover if I suddenly wipe something. But then I sit back and wonder is this will actually make me a better librarian because I too have tasted fear and have had to work hard to understand exactly what's going on? I know that I'll never be the sort to be able to build my own computer from scratch, unless technology advances so far that Legos will soon have more hard drive space than the antiquated thing I'm using to right now. But maybe hardware is just less important now. It's all about apps and what you can download and what you can do. We seem to be less and less concerned as to how it's done. That's certainly the attitude we assume in our patron base; they're really not going to care if it's VPN on the back end or if they're looking at our OCLC vs local holdings. They want the item and they wanted it yesterday.

It's learning to use the software that's key and this seems to be mainly where library instruction lies. There are so many databases and finding aids and entry points out there that keeping them in order or learning to use them in the best manner can be virtually impossible. This is perhaps where I'll find my place as a librarian. Technology can't possibly make us obsolete as it keeps opening doors and dumping data all over the place. We can help people pick through it and store and use what they find.

This was rambly and not very original, but I wanted to get something down today. It won't get better unless I practice... or until my new laptop shows up.

2 comments:

Matt said...

So did you get the Lenovo or go with the deal through your coworker?

M said...

Yeah, I sorta just skimmed over that important detail. The employee discount wound up being more bitching, so I went with that. I want it here now. I need it here now.