Life Before The Digital Age


Peter LaCount, Advisor

I’ve been an educator and a teacher for about 35 years.  During that time so many things have changed.  When I started school there was no thought of technology in the classroom.  We wrote on typewriters  and had only the library for research.  I remember standing in line to make copies of books at the library (if they weren’t already checked out – ugh so frustrating!!) and creating notes on index cards to write reports. Then spending days typing out a long paper.  

Anyway, a few months ago I was going through my basement and came upon some old stuff my dad had shown me when I was a boy.  I think one of the reasons I went into education was because, although my dad wasn’t a classroom teacher, he loved reading and traveling and taught me all kinds of cool things.

Here’s what I found:

A slide rule:  This looks like a regular ruler, only on steroids, and was used before computers to make advanced calculations.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Apollo 13 there is a brief scene where they were trying to calculate fuel levels and they showed three guys using slide rules (they used three slide rules to make sure that the numbers all came out the same). This was 1970 and your Iphone is way more powerful than any computers NASA had back then.

An old edition of the Washington Post: I found a full newspaper from August 9, 1974 with headline ‘Nixon Resigns’ that I gave to Mr. Bawroski. He has a copy of the front page on his wall.  If you notice, although both papers are from the same date, the pictures on the front page are different.  This is because before the internet many newspapers had a morning edition and an afternoon edition meaning you could get two of the same newspaper each day.  People got most of their news from newspapers.  Having a morning edition might, for instance, announce that Nixon was resigning and the evening edition would print what he said in his resignation speech.  News traveled much slower back in the day….

A sextant:  This is an odd looking metal contraption with lenses used primarily for navigating at sea.  Today we have GPS and can find out where we are and where we are going in an instant.  Back before computers you used a sextant and lined it up with a star to calculate where you were in the ocean.  If it was cloudy, I guess you had to wait for another day to find out exactly where you were at sea.

Satellite material:  I found this ultra-thin metallic material that was used to make satellites.  It is thinner than paper and I can’t believe they sent it up into space.  When going into space, weight means everything so the lighter something is the better.  This material was used to make weather satellites that weren’t launched by a rocket, but floated up into space like a giant balloon.

I brought these items into school for Ms. Hernandez to show her students. At first I didn’t think they’d care too much about them.   I wasn’t sure if there’d be any interest in seeing some tools used by their grandparents and great-grandparents.  To my surprise the students loved them!!  One student took a piece of satellite with her as she was so fascinated by it.  Another loved looking and trying out the sextant and others had fun trying to calculate using a slide rule.  Soooo much slower than a computer or calculator but in some ways so much more elegant.

I was so happy that the students found these as interesting and fun to see as I did.  Everybody seemed to like seeing where we were and where we are today in terms of technology. Dad, even though you are gone, thanks so much for continuing to be a teacher to all of us.  You’d be proud.