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Welcome to Modernity! Learning About Computers at the Library

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Underwood Elliott Fisher Co. - Woman posing with giant typewriter, Digital ID 1685589, New York Public LibraryReaders of some of my prior posts may have garnered the (correct) impression that I hopelessly long for a return to yesteryear. However, since H.G. Wells' The Time Machine does not yet refer to an actual, functioning invention, I am coerced to resign myself to acclimating, to a degree, to this century. (Sigh.)

I freely admit that there are some perks of modernity that I am exceedingly glad to avail myself of—antibiotics, butter that I needn't arise at 3 a.m. to churn, modes of transport that one need not be concerned with treating humanely and word-processing programs. The latter is especially useful for me, as I can still recall my jejune days, pounding the keys on a typewriter, and regarding correction ribbons and Whiteout as most welcome inventions (although I must state that the potential to "spoof," intercept and re-write e-mail, wreak havoc with GPS signals and cell phone voicemail by "hackers" most definitely represents some innate perils concomitant with the convenience of utilizing computerized techonology to communicate). So, when I received a call from a friend from my high school days, inveighing me to take an "online course" in "Computers for the 21st Century," I was coerced to wrestle with my cognitive dissonance on the matter.

"Helen" has three daughters in their twenties who have (not so gently!) forced Helen to swim upstream in the sea of technology. Thus, Helen is quite familiar with "texting" abbreviations (for a mercy, I lack the requisite eyesight to decipher text messages in the notoriously small font that my phone contains, so I never read nor send text, but was quite alarmed to receive a Facebook message from my nephew that stated "143, SLAP, CULBR." I didn't know if it was my nephew's intent to intimidate me with the mathematical reference, (math represents life-long anathema to me), if he was threatening bodily harm to me or was hurling epitaphs in some obscure tribal dialect at me (my nephew was enrolled in an anthropology course at the time). Fortunately, Helen, with her infinite, hard-won knowledge of "text-speak," was able to allay my fears in that regard, PDQ), Tumbler, iTunes and a vast array of other computerized features of modernity. Accordingly, Helen could not fathom my reluctance to enroll in an online course.

"Helen, just this past summer, I assisted an individual who was enrolled in a law course, online. I am not characterizing myself as a towering legal pundit, but I was fairly well surprised at the dearth of knowledge of the law displayed by the entity who I was assisting, who was on the very precipice of graduating from an online degree program in that subject area. I understand that computers are all the rage these days, but I think that online courses provide too fertile of a forum for plagiarism of work, lack of diligence to studying..." Helen cleared her throat and said, "Wait a minute, Missy, I recall you writing satirical plays in math class instead of concentrating on the lesson ..." "Exactly! Oh, the multi-tasking skills and powers of observation that I developed whilst scribbling lines and simultaneously ascertaining the physical location of the teacher. Not to mention the sleight of hand we developed passing notes to our friends. Quite frankly, I cannot fathom why neither the FBI nor CIA ever recruited us." Helen sighed, quite audibly, before stating, "Maybe 'cuz you'd arm their respective Special Agents with muskets instead of Glocks?!? Um, er, I mean, yes, those were the good old days. But times have changed! 'Time and tide wait for no man.'" "Oh, how cruel, using an adage against me! Okay, I know there are some benefits yielded from online courses, provided one is sufficiently diligent and ethical to do one's own work and pace oneself properly. "

"But why be coerced to tender money for an online course when the NYPL provides so much computer-tutoring for free? Of course, the NYPL doesn't offer online degrees, but if you are seeking knowledge rather than a certificate as 'proof' of that knowledge..." Helen interrupted me,"I didn't know that! What level of learner is the class geared to?" I explained to my friend the NYPL has a literal plethora of computer classes at a wide-variety of locations. Some classes are geared for people who have never used a computer (I for one will never forget the melee that ensued when the computer instructor asked the class participants to "pick up the mouse." One patron shrieked, climbed on top of her chair and exclaimed, "I didn't know this was the zoo docent class! I thought I was enrolled in a computer class!") to those who desire to know more about "C++" (yes, admittedly, it took a while before I realized those patrons were not seeking information on advanced Spanish language classes, as in "SI, plus, plus." On a positive note, more than one patron was thrilled to learn about Mango, the NYPL's language tutoring database, as well as the GED and other courses for people who read and write in the Spanish language included in the very-encompassing Learning Express database, accessible via the NYPL free of charge). The NYPL offers individualized, flexible subject-focus computer instruction as well as topic-specific classes aimed at a group of learners. And, of course, patrons may always seek informal computer assistance from NYPL branch staff, depending on the competing task demands facing said staff members.

The NYPL offers a wide-range of books concerning computers in its circulating collection as well as in e-book format. After receiving this most-welcome news regarding computers and the NYPL, Helen responded, "I can't believe you didn't mention this to me before! Well, thanks for the 411! Talk to 'ya later. Gotta run. My kids are texting me to make dinner." Since I had overheard the respective voices of Helen's daughters during this telephone conversation, I inquired," Why are they texting you if they are physically present in the same room with you?" Helen sighed again and responded, "What's your point?" AGH!

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