The Curse of Information/Thoughts on a Wet Day

The Big Window

The Reading Room Windows

I’m cursed with information.  Right now I have a browser window open on NHK’s English-language channel, talking about the consequences of the earthquake/tsunami and the consequent nuclear issues.  Once upon a time, not so very long ago, this would not have been possible.

When TMI underwent its accident in late March 1979, we heard about it on the radio, we saw it on television.  But 32 years ago there was no internet to speak of, and we didn’t feel quite the need to be perpetually connected.

I have an interesting relationship with nuclear power, since the uncle for whom I’m named was one of Dixie Lee Ray’s deputies for safety at the old Atomic Energy Commission, and since in the early ’80s, I did a masters thesis at the University of Chicago on the topic of the antinuclear movement.  So when this sort of thing happens, I do feel compelled to pay attention.  I know too much not to.

Which brings me to my wet day topic.

Ironically, the thoughts above followed another set of thoughts that were stimulated by today’s rainy spring weather.

I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1981.  I took an extra year because it was fun and cheap and because, honestly, I actually made money going to school (I was an undergraduate teaching assistant, paid about $2.50/hour for 15 hours each week, and the term was 10 weeks. Back then tuition was $300 per quarter, so you can do the math).

Tuition is a lot more, now that it’s 32 years later and I’m in law school.  But.  Below is a list of some similarities and differences…

In 1979, rain darkened everything.  It still does.  Students wore drab, earth-tone jackets, mostly green, tan, or rust, and all of virtually the same style (the famous mountain parka).  There is much less uniformity in dress today…and colors tend to be either black/navy or very bright yellows, oranges, purples. I used a computer.  Same.  I still use a computer.  That one was the size of several large office desks, or one car, and it was only a terminal.  I sat at another office-desk-sized device to punch cards, that we then fed into the terminal (“reader/printer”) and waited for output.  There are two machines in front of me right now.  One is a netbook that has far more power than the centralized mainframe of 1979 ever had; the other is a telephone/radio/computer terminal/camera/all-purpose device that also has more power and storage than that machine ever had. I spent a lot of time in the university library, mostly in the basement reading room.  Same, except the stacks are mostly in the basement and the reading room has huge glass windows showing the rainy weather. I took pictures with a small camera that used chemicals and film.  I take pictures with my phone.  The picture at the top of this post was shot seconds ago, emailed to my netbook, resized, and uploaded to this blog. We used to worry that when we grew up, the world wouldn’t still be there.  Now we worry that when we grow up, it still will be…

For all our technology–or perhaps because of it–we use a lot more power now than we have to.  Heck, integrated circuits have replaced vacuum tubes, what we used to call “micro compact” cars have become the new normal.  But we use more gas.  We’re still unhappy.  Perhaps we need to do more with less…or more with more, I don’t know.  I’d hate to give up the internet, but thanks to that net I don’t need hundreds of books, and I don’t need to drive very much.  I do still ride a bike to get around, or when it’s really cold and messy (like today) I can still take a bus.

We used to think that the world was a pretty damn precarious place, but that we could make it better.  Well, it’s still pretty damn precarious, but 32 years later it’s still here.  World population has more than doubled since I was born, and most of that has happened since I was in college.  We’re still here.  Whenever I’m depressed, I try to remind myself of that.  We’re still here.  And we can make it better.

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