08 April 2008

Inherited Knowledge


Yesterday, at il day jobo, my boss asked me to add up some numbers and attach them to their respective back-up. So I fired up the computer calculator (this in spite of playing Brain Age for the Nintendo DS of late), added the numbers and wrote them on post-it notes to afix. When I turned them in to my boss (Me: Well, she should be impressed with that speed-of-return...) she informed me 'twould not do. She needed to see the calculations. Oh. Okay. I'll do it in Excel. No no, says she, we don't want to attach whole sheets to the papers, just a little slip. Use my adding machine. Oh. Okay. That shouldn't be a problem.

My dad's an accountant, and I associate these machines with him. You've seen them, even if you've never had cause to use one. They're like over-sized calculators with a spool of receipt tape atop, that prints out what yer' computin'. They make a very distinctive noise that usually indicates someone who is deep in concentration. When you enter a figure into yer' computin', it prints it with a brief gear-y, scratchy sound, and when you want to pound out the final total, it makes these sounds for considerably longer (having as it generally does more to print at the end) as though to say, "Congratulations! You're one major step closer to whatever you're doing!" Interestingly enough, these machines also have the addition and equation symbols on the same, over-sized button.

Cut to me, twenty minutes after my boss' request, pounding my head in frustration as I try to figure out how to get the adding machine to PRINT the G.D. TOTAL. Every number I enter automatically prints to the paper as I press the big addition/equation button, but when I get to the end of the line . . . what am I supposed to do? When I press the big a/e button again, it simply adds the previous number to the line again, thereby ruining that particular slice of tape. It seemed so convenient and obvious to me before, combining those functions. Every time you hit it, your running total appears on the screen. Now, though, it is my enemy. They should be separate buttons! Does the manufacturer get a deal on buttons if he makes one over-sized? WHAT the HELL?! After many minutes of flicking mysterious switches experimentally, trying to interpret all these "M-" buttons and generally doing what I do to figure something out with Microsoft programs, I notice something. In the column of function keys, there is one labeled "x" and one labeled "*". Huh. In my (computerized) mind, those are both symbols for multiplication, so I didn't find either out-of-the-ordinary when regarded individually. When I noticed both were there, I tried pressing "*".

Success! All praise "*"! It even printed a sub-line that illustrated how many figures were added together to make the total! I could make-out with my adding machine!

It would not be a lasting relationship, however, infused as it is with such opposing passions, so I relented in my desire.

It reminded me of something I had been reminded of earlier in the weekend as well. I was watching Elizabeth for the first time, with Fiancee Megan, a movie I had long intended to see. There's quite a good amount of classical dance in that film, and Megan said she thought it must have been strange, knowing all the same dances. This reminded me of something Friend David (Zarko) often laments -- that we don't all know the same dances anymore. Dances. Adding machines. What does it all mean?

Nothing in particular to the nouns, or even all the words of my little meandering story. It's in between those words.

There is something rich and important in passing knowledge from person to person, with no intermediaries or tools involved, and something richer still in passing knowledge between people who have a relationship. That's not to say that the world is going to Hell in a handbasket because you can Google or Wiki world history as you need it (...and why, I ask myself, did I not simply Google adding-machine instructions...); I think the ability to access information instantly and specifically is an amazing boon to human culture. Plus it makes moving easier, what with needing to haul about fewer reference books. The only problem is, when we take a break from correspondence courses and search engines, and even encyclopedias, and engage in someone from whom we learn, something different happens. Something good, and difficult to put into words. I wrote that I probably wouldn't have learned acrobalance as I have if it hadn't been taught to me by Friend Kate (see 3/14/08). Perhaps I'd know more dances -- care to know more dances -- if I had a community that regularly met in order to share them.

I'm sure a lot of men have had the experience of coming upon a challenge and thinking, "Huh. I'll bet if I paid more attention to my dad when I was young, I'd have this licked." I've also had plenty of experiences which I've come through and thought, "Whoa; glad dad taught me that." (This perhaps most notably the several times I had to save my old computer by fixing things through DOS; also every time I get a compliment on knowing how to tie a full Windsor.) Friend Todd is excellent about striking up educational conversations with everyone he meets, a trait I most admire and try to cultivate in myself. In many ways, this is part of what's so important about live theatre. I don't know who's teacher and who's student in that scenario, but I do know we're all there with a little time to get to know each other, and learn to push each others' buttons.

2 comments:

Davey said...

When I saw the picture at the top, and then heard tell of using an adding machine, I thought, for some odd assortment of time like 3 seconds (but not 4, as that would not be odd) that you actually had to do the work on a really old fasioned one; with the handle. Then you could pretend you were a mob accountant! Or at least playing the slots in Vegas.

Jeff Wills said...

Man, do I wish, Davey. The old-fashioned kind might have actually been easier to understand through intuition. That's how I always used to try and figure out my Transformers(TM) as well: intuitively. It was months before I found Laserbeak's feet.

Also: More devices should have attached seats. I am on such a steampunk kick these days...