Techno-Assault & Battery

by W.D. Ehrhart

Technology and I have a long and unhappy history dating back to the fall of 1970 when I took a course during my sophomore year at Swarthmore College called Engineering for Non-Majors, but popularly known as “Engine Whiz.” In those days, the computer took up the entire basement of the engineering building. You would sit in the classroom, and Professor Doby would write on the blackboard exactly the instructions you were supposed to type in. And then you would go down to the computer room and type it onto the computer punchcards.

And I would do exactly as I was instructed. But my program would never work. I’m not kidding. Even Professor Doby, who was a nice guy and gave me a passing grade anyway, couldn’t figure out why it never worked for me.

Fast forward to the 1990s. The Internet arrives. But I like paper letters with ink on them, and putting stuff in the mail, and getting stuff back in the mail. Maybe it goes back to my time in the Marines when mail call was a really big deal, I don’t really know. But I refused to buy into this new-fangled e-mail method of communicating. I’m gonna stick with the tried and true.

Except that after a few years, I began to realize that editors I used to work with regularly were no longer answering my letters. If I wanted to continue publishing what I wrote, I would need to get myself onto the Electronic Super-highway, and begin communicating by e-mail. I was then in my mid-40s, and still had much of my writing life ahead of me, so I acquired e-mail and eventually became reasonably comfortable with it.

But the tidal wave of technology didn’t stop there. In the early part of this century, I was offered a job teaching at the Haverford School for Boys. A couple of years into the job, each classroom got equipped with a desktop computer on which we recorded class attendance. Soon afterwards, we were also required to file our students’ quarterly comments online. And as the years passed, the school required ever more of what we did to be done on the computer.

By the time I retired five years ago, most teachers posted their entire courses online digitally: every reading, every assignment, every grade (all of it available to the parents), while students were not only allowed, but required, to submit their assignments electronically, as well as taking quizzes and tests online.

I didn’t do any of that. Up to the day of my retirement, my students read printed books, submitted assignments on actual paper, and wrote exams on paper and in Blue Books (remember those?). I did not allow computers in my classroom, let alone what became those ubiquitous Smart-phones because there was absolutely no reliable way to prevent kids from watching YouTube sports or texting their girlfriends.

I don’t think the school’s administrators were all that happy with me and my guerrilla techno-resistance, but I was otherwise pretty good at what I did, and I was by then already on Medicare, so I guess they figured I wouldn’t be around that much longer in any case. But every year, I fell farther and farther behind the techno-curve. And I finally figured I’d better leave on my own steam before some alpha dog board member started asking, “Why’s that dinosaur still here?”

Needless to say, I never partook of Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, or any other form of “social media,” none of which strikes me as very social. I don’t do text messaging. I carry a flip-phone. I know that technology is the future, and the future is now, but I’m finally old enough that I just don’t care. It’s not like if I do all that social media stuff, I’m suddenly going to be discovered by the editors of Harper’s Magazine, who will invite me to write a cover story for them, and I’ll become famous and win a National Book Award.

However, recently a friend from the town I grew up in sent me a photo of an exhibit at the Perkasie Historical Society Museum that featured my book Vietnam-Perkasie and a photo of me, and asked me if I was aware of it. It was news to me, but I happened to be up that way later in the month, so I went over to check it out. The folks who run the museum were obviously pleased by my visit, and they photographed me in front of the exhibit, and posted that on their Facebook page with a little write-up.

On the same day that appeared, a Swarthmore friend posted an essay of mine, “Protests, Then & Now” from the web page of Current Affairs on the Swarthmore Alumni Connections Facebook page. So I finally gave in and decided I would actually give Facebook a try.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. I followed the Facebook instructions to the letter (just like I had always done in Professor Doby’s class), and I seemed to have been successful, but seven minutes later, before I had even posted anything, I get a message from Facebook telling me that my account has been suspended because I’ve violated their Community Standards. I have 180 days to appeal the suspension before it becomes permanent.

So I push the red button that says “Appeal,” and that sends me to a page that explains the procedure. Only it doesn’t because the page is bigger than the screen, and the whole bottom part of the document is not visible, and there is no mechanism to scroll down. I even asked my wife, who had been a systems engineer for two decades, to take a look, but she (much like poor Professor Doby) couldn’t figure it out either.

So I’m told I’ve violated the Facebook Community Standards, but I can appeal my suspension, but I am provided with no means of appeal. And this is seven minutes after I opened my account and before I’ve even posted anything.

I ranted and raged for awhile, then went for a long walk with a friend and former colleague from the Haverford School, which was very relaxing, and by the time I got home, I had decided that I’ve managed 75 years without Facebook, and can probably manage for what is left of the rest of my life.

My wife concurs with my decision. I’ll bet Professor Doby would, too.

I’m pretty sure I was born several centuries too late.


W. D. Ehrhart is a retired Master Teacher of History & English, and author of a Vietnam War memoir trilogy published by McFarland.

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