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LARSON: Watching Tech-nology slide into the future

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

When my husband enrolled at Georgia Tech in 1962, all an aspiring engineer needed was a decent slide rule. The only thing they had to stress out over was whether to buy a Post, Pickett or K & E, each running about $20, which, granted, was 10 times the price of the plastic ones they sold at Woolworth’s.

When our son enrolled at Tech in 1999, each student was required to own his own computer. That August, along with thousands of other families, I attended freshman orientation for parents where we sat through an hour-long session on mandatory computer ownership.

“Is there really so much computer work that roommates can’t share a computer?” a parent asked. The computer guy explained, “It’s not just a technological tool. It’s a communication tool. Each student has to have an email address for getting grades and a secret password to access confidential information like the status of their Buzz credit card account. And with kids being so busy, if they can’t email you, you’ll probably never hear from them again.”

The computer guy did his pitch for Tech’s custom-made computers, but said we could buy any computer we wanted, no matter how cheap, as long as it met their minimum standards.

We poured over their literature and went comparison-shopping. We’re not talking $20 here. Minimum standards, which I wrote about in a column that year, included Pentium II class, 128MB of memory, 4GB hard drive, CD-ROM, sound card, speakers and 10Base-T Ethernet port, plus a DVD card. We checked out all the discounts, rebates, package deals and steals on suitable models and consulted with professionals in the field. After hours of calculating, correlating and comparing, we figured out the best bargain came in at just under $900.

Fifteen years later, almost everything on that list of requirements is obsolete. Kids entering Tech today don’t even recognize half the words. As for what is needed for 2014 admission, it is clearly posted on the Tech website: “Georgia Tech requires all entering undergraduate students to own a laptop computer that meets the minimum minimum hardware and software requirements.” Above that statement is a link to a 14-page document that describes all the details of said requirements, including links to additional websites for further clarification.

I can’t even imagine the requirements in 2033 when our first grandson, due on Nov. 24, is old enough to follow in his dad’s and grandfather’s footsteps and enroll at Tech. Laptop computers will probably be collectors’ items and that 14-page document will most likely read like Sanskrit.

On the other hand, if that magnetic pole shift the doomsayers are predicting really does come about and wipe out all our computers, our grandson will still be good. Because sitting on the top shelf of his grandfather’s side of the closet is a K & E slide rule just waiting for him if he ever needs it.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.