Tahlequah Daily Press

October 14, 2013

Smartphones not first tiny computer screens

Managing Editor

TAHLEQUAH — Sometimes when you’re dealing with a new product or service, or especially new technology, you have to embarrass yourself publicly before you get the drift.

From time to time, I get to thinking I’m pretty smart, and that I can meet any challenge head-on. When that attitude manifests, an eventual smack with the humility stick is inevitable.

Back when I was in college, I was with a friend, Kim Good, when we dropped by the outlet mall that used to be just off the Broken Arrow Expressway this side of Tulsa. The bathrooms were posh: Velour chaise lounges, fresh hand towels and elegant fixtures. There was the usual feminine hygiene products dispenser, and something I’d never seen before: a perfume dispenser.

My favorite fragrance at the time, Halston, was touted as one of the choices, so I put in my 25 cents and pushed the button, assuming the machine would cough up a foil packet containing a towelette soaked in perfume. When a couple of seconds passed and no packet had materialized, I bent down and peered into the maw from whence I assumed the packet would come. Suddenly, there was a loud “PSSSST!” sound, and a small metal nodule I hadn’t previously noticed blasted out a spray of perfume, right in my eyes. The “other Kim” laughed so hard I thought she was having a seizure.

A few years later, I got another comeuppance at the hands of technology. The Daily Press was one of the first newspapers in the state to begin full pagination: designing newspaper pages on a desktop computer. Colleagues of that era who still live more or less in this region – Dan and Nancy Garber, Dana Eversole, Bob Gibbins, John Hoover, Laura Garner, and others like Sean Rowley (who was insane enough to return to the fold) – will remember the nightmare.

Young whippersnappers in today’s publications industry can whip off, in no time flat, a page on their oversized, 62-bazillion-color, flat-screen monitors attached to six-digit-gigabyte computers. In terms of the situation as it existed in the late 1980s, we geezers must defensively posture – “You weren’t THERE, man!” – and explain the incomprehensibly draconian conditions.

The quote attributed to Bill Gates from the early ‘80s – “640KB ought to be enough memory for anybody” – may have been urban legend, but nevertheless, the first “personal computers” churned out under the MacIntosh moniker were tiny rectangular boxes with 9-inch black-and-white monitors. How many of you kids are aware “Mac” used to mean “MacIntosh,” or that “OS” used to mean something other than “operating system”? Or maybe I should instead ask how many “kids” still read newspapers often enough to see this query and contemplate a response.

But even kids who don’t read the paper know what a page of one looks like. Simple math reveals the conundrum: Only a fraction of a broadsheet page could be viewed at 100 percent, so it was impossible to look at the whole page at one time. Sure, you could zoom out, but you couldn’t even read an 80-point screamer headline at that distance. So paginating on one of these things required you to constantly zoom in and out, in and out, to compare and check. The old “cut-and-paste” method worked much better.

I resisted pagination, although Laura (then our composing supervisor – back when we had such a thing as a composing department) breezed happily through the training. I have to defend myself by saying smaller ads didn’t pose much of a problem, and full-page ads were not that common – and besides, ads are sort of designed in “pieces,” anyway – even today. But I cried in frustration several times. I was still in my 20s, nowhere close to as crusty as cynical as I have become at 53. Eventually, the publisher, Brad Sugg, agreed to delay full-page news pagination for a year or so. When we were finally forced into compliance, he bought a single large monitor for layout. Those of you who knew Brad will understand parting with the extra money would have been no small feat.

This contraption was comparatively huge, like a 21-inch TV with “tubes” – wider front to back than it was tall top to bottom, and black and white to boot. The larger monitor made pagination a breeze. By this time, John Hoover was our sports editor, and after he saw the ease with which I could now produce pages, he refused to suffer the 9-inch monitor, so we agreed to share. He came in at around 5 a.m. and did his sports pages (we were an afternoon paper at that time), and when I arrived at 9 or 10,  I booted him from my chair.

Flash forward now to 2013. Even five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined how the industry would evolve. You couldn’t have convinced me many young people would rely on 140-character chunks of verbiage for critical information, or that smartphones for 7-year-olds would be as common as ticks on a coonhound. Nor would I have believed that large contingents of folks would believe whatever they read on the Internet, as long as the drivel came from someone whose religious and political beliefs matched their own.

In recent years, I’ve had to deal with metadata and digital manipulation (not the kind you oldsters are thinking of), and I’ve suffered the noun-verb marriage and awkward prefixing that forces us to google for information, friend and unfriend, and follow and unfollow. I acknowledge, along with many others who updated their iPhones to iOS7, that this latest rendition is terminally flawed, and so are plenty of other apps. With updates rolling it at seemingly one or two a day for my limited package, you’d think some geek somewhere would figure it all out.

The irony is that after rejecting a 9-inch PC monitor, I’m now back to sifting through data on a screen less than a third that size. Go figure. On second thought, I’d rather not.