Both sets of my grandparents lived through enormous changes — from starting out in the horse-and-buggy era to owning and driving automatic transmission cars; from seeing the first airplanes overhead to jetting from New York to California; from operator-assisted party-lines to private telephones (first rotary, then touchtone); from silent black & white films to color talkies to drive-ins to special effects (though wrt this last category, I went to see Star Wars with Grandma B, and she honestly had no idea how to interpret what she'd seen).

Anyway, they lived through some amazing technological transitions while experiencing the big events of the 20th century — two world wars (with voting rights for women and the Great Depression in between), the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, … and the list goes on.

When I thought about the technological transitions I've seen, baby-boomer that I am, my first thought was — honestly, my first thought was typewriters. I started out in the era of full-manual, push-the-damned-platen-back-to-the-left-by-yourself machines — of which my family owned two, neither of which I used very much, mostly because I completely and totally resisted taking typing lessons in junior high and high school. I was absolutely not going to be a secretary — but I hadn't realized that I'd need to type my papers in college.

So OK, I ended up taking a typing class in college, and by then America had moved forward through electric typewriters that still involved individual keys striking paper, but moved the platen (the carriage) back with the press of a button, to wholesale adoption of IBM Selectric-style machines that moved a type-ball instead of the platen itself.

The Selectric was a marvel: you could put on different type-balls with different fonts or italicized fonts — what a wonder! And painstakingly erasing errors with an honest-to-God eraser (or in the worst — and for me, the most common — case, giving up and typing the entire page over again) was replaced by eraser tape and white-out.

A greater marvel was the advent of so-called self-correcting Selectrics — machines that had eraser tape built right in. This was the pinnacle of the One True Typewriter right up until word-processing on desktop computers became affordable and commonplace. (I did work a little in emacs, but I'm going to forget that ever happened; the Mac came along in time to largely spare me.) To be able to look over and format documents and fix problems on-screen before sending something to the printer (aside: in the early 1980s, we borrowed from my in-laws the $3,000 that it cost to buy a LaserWriter), being able to print multiple copies without using carbon paper! — it was mind-boggling to me then, and I sometimes frankly envy my kids for never having had to deal with the more primitive technology.

I've yet to use much in the way of voice-recognition to set down my ideas and clever turns of phrase and all, though I've ventured a tiny way into machine-assisted musical notation.

There are obviously plenty of other changes I've seen — but honestly, unlike the changes in my grandparents' lives, most of what has come into my life seem to have been improvements, sometimes massive improvements, to existing technologies rather than outright innovations. (I recognize that I am not particularly privy to lots of cutting edges in the world at large, nor to all of the background innovation responsible for such vast improvements; I'm speaking simply about common daily first-world life as I experience it: computers, telephones, transportation, and so on.)

I have lived through the duck-and-cover of the Cold War, Kennedy's assassination, Vietnam, … all the way up until the present horror of America's downward spiral, of huge environmental degradation, of ever-accelerating climate change, of massive overpopulation and all that that portends. It is less and less clear to me that technology will be able to save us from our human-generated catastrophes, even if it makes it a lot easier to write about them. Here's hoping I'm wrong.