It’s me, Tammy.
I’m the middle-aged, white-haired lady hunched over her computer in her home office somewhere in North Dakota. You know, the one who has a pile of crumpled Reese’s wrappers by the computer and occasionally bursts into tears for no apparent reason?
Let me apologize right here for any swear words you may have overheard. It’s just that I come from a long line of short-tempered people who like to curse and swear when they hit their thumb with a hammer or get stung by a bee or realize the news business has advanced light years since they last worked in a newsroom in 2012.
You see, I recently started a new job at The Forum. Technically, it’s a new old job, in that it is at a place where I have worked no fewer than four different times. I come from a long line of indecisive swearing people, but I’m sure you already know that.
Anyhoo, the reason I’m reaching out today (that’s how we talk in 2021 — we “reach out” because calling someone or emailing someone sounds so 2007) is because I’ve had a serious hiccup in confidence. Every time I’ve restarted in newsrooms, I’ve felt pretty secure because, heck, I’ve been doing this since Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Granted, a lot changes in journalism each time I come back to it, but I’ve always kept up.
But now, God? I’m not so sure. For one thing, I’m learning all this new technology by remote. The good news is there is no one around to hear me crying and cursing. The bad news is there’s no one around to give good advice, like “Come out from under that desk, Tammy,” or “Just reboot.”
There’s no one to “reach out” to for help. (Well, except for the unfortunate support staff I email every 12 minutes, with questions like: “How did I get my digital timesheet to say I worked 32 hours on a Monday when I only worked eight and there are only 24 hours in a day?”)
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There is so much more tech to learn than there was eight years ago. There are a bunch of different systems with names that sound like fibromyalgia drugs, such as Mitel and Ascentis. There is a “proprietary business communication platform” called Snark or Slurp or Slack, which allows us to “reach out” and chat with colleagues. (Ha! Take THAT, email! You tired hag!)
There’s a system called Chartbeat, which reports the best-read stories of the week. This is where I learned that the average time readers spend “engaging” with a story is 40 seconds. Holy Ritalin, Batman! Forget the inverted pyramid. It’s time for the inverted molecule.
My frustration with technology seems to double with every year that I age. Maybe my brain is already overflowing with useless info, like how to program data punch cards or the proper margins to use on a typewritten cover letter. But part of it is that technology — long hailed as a life-saving timesaver — has made so many things more complex.
For instance, I am supposed to learn a new content creation platform known as CUE. I was just sent the user’s manual for CUE. It is 129 pages.
Do you know what our content management system was at The Forum in 1989? It was a little slip of paper, on which you wrote the “slug” for your story, along with the length. Then you put the slip in a little box, thoughtfully covered in flowered contact paper, on the editor’s desk.
Barbaric? Without a doubt. But we cave dwellers somehow managed to get a paper out every day using these prehistoric methods, while also finding enough time to cover a little box with flowered contact paper.
In the ’90s, I worked with an older gentleman who had a terrible time running the copy machine. Some of us smart-alecky 20-somethings found this amusing. Like, how hard could it be to run a copier? We used to joke that no one should let him near the fax machine, lest he accidentally launch a satellite.
Well, God, I am now paying for my sins. After walking in the shoes of a technologically overwhelmed midcareer worker, I understand his pain. I now understand the indulgent looks of young ‘uns as they effortlessly TikTok their snappy little dances and give me the “OK Boomer” eye roll.
So I will just hang in there, I guess. I’ll just get out from under the desk and start reaching for the stars. Or reaching out for the Valium. Or Excedrin. Or Ascentis.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at [email protected]