Friday, May 18, 2012

The History Lesson

“I got a 96 on that history paper, Mom”  my eldest told me in the car the other day.  She writes so many papers for her AP History class I had no idea which one she was referring to. 

"Out of what?”  I skeptically replied.  I am an eternal devil’s advocate. 

“Out of a hundred, jeez”.  Although I couldn't look right at her,  I could just sense the eye rolling.

We were on an especially twisted road near her school with many blind curves, so I wasn't really paying attention.

Minutes passed.  I concentrated on my driving and she clearly concentrated on something else.

“You know, it was the one I interviewed you for.”

It was a good thing there was a red light ahead because I needed the stop. It's actually a very long light at the intersection of Greenspring Valley Road and Greenspring Avenue.  The locals are annoyed by it but the tourists to the local horse farms need the extra two minutes to figure out why they would name two intersecting streets the same name. The intersection is close to about five schools too.  Maybe I'm not the only parent in the area who needs that long light to collect thoughts at pick-up time.

“Really?” I answered, feeling as proud of myself as I was of her.

Am I the only one who still feels like they should be getting good grades in life?

“The other girls interviewed a lot of grandparents about their war stories.  I think Ms. G got bored with that. Ms. G liked my topic.  She said it was the most original.”

Her assignment was to write a paper about a significant event in US History and then interview a relative or friend on how that event changed their lives.  Most girls wrote about various wars.  Those lucky enough to have surviving grandparents from  WWII, the Korean War or  unlucky enough to have parents who experienced the Vietnam War or the more current Middle East conflicts wrote and interviewed a relative about the event.  We, unfortunately, do not have anyone who have survived any of these conflicts in our immediate family.  Nor do we have statesmen, politicians, or any American movers or shakers in the family that would be willing to talk to her.

She chose to write about the development of the personal computer and the Internet.  

I thought it was clever of her since both had radically changed all of our lives, and rather peacefully I might add too.

In the interview I regaled on my plight as a college student, not even having my own typewriter and having to go to the library to pay 25 cents per 15 minutes to type papers, always with liquid paper close at hand.  I was tempted to say I had to walk to campus without shoes too but that was pushing it.

I revealed my only college experience with computers was having to deal with (and it was a big deal) old DEC20s for Elementary Statistics and generating reams of perforated paper to calculate means, medians, P values, etc.,  something we can do today in milliseconds and without destroying an entire forest.

I spoke of playing one of the first computer games in college called "Adventure" (also called Colossus Cave) and amazing a then Business School boyfriend on how far I could get.

I told of having to write papers or do research in college or med school and having to use the first Medline system in a library to look up original papers. 

I remembered how the hospital of my residency in Chicago was way ahead of its time in the late 1980’s by having a computer ordering system.

On how her father and I shared an email on AOL when “Electronic mail”  was first widely used and how hesitant people were to use it, always backing it up with paper copies.

I explained how everyone thought the computer universe would end in Y2K and how the nation and the world braced itself for the electronic Armageddon that wasn’t.

I also referred to Thomas Friedman’s work The World is Flat. One of Friedman's premises is that the rise of personal computers throughout the world contributed greatly to the globalization of markets and information.

And, of course, how "Google" has become everyone's peripheral brain.

I was on a roll.

I was surprised that she used my interview verbatim.

Teenagers. They surprise you sometimes.  Sometimes you realize that you can surprise them too.

I shake my head, sigh, then smile.

And I feel to be a cog in something turning.....

Thanks Joni. Yet another Joni I need to be thankful for.

Sometimes we forget our place in history. And we all have one.

That reminder was the best history lesson of all.

Now if only my eldest would take my advice about Physics.

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