I guess my idea of “toys” is different than a lot of people’s idea.  I was at a store recently and I heard a sound in the back of the store that brought back the oddest assortment of memories.  I wasn’t actually hearing a Friden calculator but the sound was so similar to that old racket that I was back some 40 or more years in history.

Kids today have no idea that there was a time when calculators didn’t exist.  Nor do they realize that the earliest calculators — adding machines — could not perform multiplication functions or division functions.  The first machines I knew anything about that could actually do a division problem was this beast right here….

If you play the video you’ll see that it wasn’t an instantaneous process.  The carraige would jump back and forth, the dials would whirl, there was the noise of little gadgets hitting little whatzits inside the machine and when it finally came to a stop you had to make sure you had manually put the decimal point in the right place before you read the answer!

Before computers made their way into my life I actually found one of these at a business closing sale and I bought it for home use.  As I said, I have a strange idea of what a “toy” might be.

In those days I was making a pittance for a salary and we kept a detailed budget, complete with 14 columnar spreadsheet (a pad of which paper I discovered I still had stored away at Mike & Katy’s house when we went RV’ing).  I used that beat up old calculator long after I could actually afford an electronic calculator.  I used it for my business bookkeeping, and for taxes, and for all the daily number crunching that I had to do for quite a few years.  Eventually I decided to opt for a silent calculator.  And I still have that 10-key calculator (with actually a bunch more keys, but it will forever be a “10 key calculator).  The thing is, tax programs today do all your calculating for you.  And I don’t have to keep business books anymore.  And I don’t keep a budget.  What do I need with a calculator?  At least a plug in, ink-ribbon-using, stealing-space-on-my-desktop sort of calculator.  I HAVE a smart phone and a pad and a laptop — what do I need a calculator for?

I don’t really.

Except for the fact that it reminds me of a kinder gentler time.  No — tax time was not kinder or gentler — tax time used to be torture, but people were kinder gentler.  Well, maybe that’s not all that true either.  I have to say that dealing with government employees has been much more pleasant in recent years — government has discovered customer service and bureaucrats no longer fillme quite so much with fear.  Maybe it wasn’t kinder or gentler at all.  Maybe it’s just because I grew up with that — whatever it was — and now I’m having to adjust to something new — that it seemed kinder and gentler.

Still, don’t you think there’s something a bit comforting about the sound of an old Friden calculator whirring away as it works on your problem?  Isn’t it soothing to know that even a hard machine has to spend some time to do Long Division?   Aren’t you somehow offended when one of those electronic calculators spits out the answer almost before you hit the equals key?  I am.  I long for a little lag.  I miss that latency period.

Spectrum (my InterWebs provider) says we get 100MBS service here.  The other day I did a speedcheck just to see where we stood.  I don’t remember if the service seemed slow or if I was just killing a couple minutes whilst my brain was thinking about something else… anyway…  The first part of the speedcheck is a latency check to see how long the BOT on the other end of the connection took before it acknowledged my existence. Even that latency check was in the small thousands of a second.   Nothing waits for anything it seems — or at least it doesn’t wait on a human scale.  11milliseconds is indeed a “wait.” But hardly a “wait” that we can perceive as a human!

In some ways I love the pace of modern day life.  If I’m at a computer I’m a speed freak.  Remember I started out on a CP/M computer with a clock speed of 4K and 64K of memory.  There was no thing as multitasking.  It took days to write a simple program, and there was no such thing as spellcheck or autocorrect — a fact that I sorely hated because in those days I was typesetting a bi-monthly magazine and when I accidentally put in a bad character into the formatting I got what should have been 16 pages of letter sized paper typeset — but the typesetter delivered it in heading sized type — which meant that I paid for yards and yards and yards of expensive photo paper to typeset the entire magazine in upper case headlines…. A mistake I was determined never to repeat again (and didn’t).

When I have changed from one slow computer to one slightly faster one I have always embraced the improvement and regretted having waited so long to afford the upgrade. Now — some 40 years after I bought my first computer — I’m wondering about slowing down.  Something has changed. I’m not sure I want to admit what it might be.




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