There is no fear greater in my world.
The turning point occurred for me about 1980. The freelance world of writing had suddenly changed. I had recently moved to Alberta. The work seemed incredibly plentiful – not unlike the way it is now in Western Canada. The demand to be everywhere and cover everything in news and current affairs had become paramount. But it wasn’t so much a matter of what or whom I knew anymore. It appeared to be how quickly I could deliver. A close writer friend pointed it out to me.
“Word processors, have you seen them?” he asked. “Seems like we’d better get one or we’ll be left behind.”
I think we found some of the first so-called light-weight models in a store in Edmonton’s west end. The word processor we spotted was called the Kaypro, a personal computer (PC), designed by an American company owned by Andrew Kay. Apparently, the Kaypro had been designed to compete with the portable microcomputer, the Osborne. The Kaypro was housed in an aluminum case, weighed about 30 pounds, had 64 kibibytes of RAM (miniscule by today’s standards), had a nine-inch screen, used five-inch floppy discs and cost about $2,000 (fair coin back then). Not quite a portable, but, according to the dealer, “it’s a transportable.” I think I took my Kaypro on only one trip, after which I realized that lugging it in an out of a cab, stowing it under an airline seat and praying that all that jostling wouldn’t upset its sensitive formatting system, was just too much hassle.
But my prehistoric laptop, I thought, was keeping me in the game.
By 1990 Kaypro was bankrupt. IBM PCs and a million other clones had eclipsed my 30-pound transportable. Again, the speed of change in microcomputers pushed me onward. I learned about WordPerfect function keys. And about the time I had mastered everything from F-1 to F-12, I landed some freelance work at TV Ontario. I remember walking into the office area for my first production meeting. I think it was 1994. Instead of PCs, at every work station was this boxy-looking micro with a strange appendage snaking across the desktop. In an instant my F-world came crashing to Earth. A mouse took control of my words and my life.
I’ve tangoed with information technology (IT) fairly well since then. Through the facsimile (fax) machine and its quirky rolled paper, and from dot matrix to inkjet printers and beyond, I’ve managed to keep my head above water. Then, the military’s best kept secret – the Internet – went public and again everything changed forever. I guess it’s a couple of years ago now, that another writing colleague gave me the same kind of fright I’d experienced at that computer shop in Edmonton in 1980 and at TV Ontario in 1994.
“Aren’t you blogging yet?” she asked.
My initial instinct was to look down to check if something was out of place or something. Then she explained that blogging was a portmanteau (word made from combining “web” and “logging”) to describe the writing that diarists, editorialists and many journalists had explored as independent expression on the World Wide Web. I’d heard about Matt Drudge and the Drudge Report. I was certainly aware of U.S. Senator Trent Lott’s extraordinary comments about Senator Strom Thurmond; but I hadn’t realized that Lott’s tacit approval of Thurmond’s racial segregation policies was exposed not by mainstream media reporters, but by bloggers; the blogosphere, as it became known, had ultimately forced Lott to resign as majority leader. The wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan moved blogging to the forefront of contemporary comment and instant reaction.
Blogging, it seems, has become a vital (some say the most potent) arrow in the editorialist’s quiver. And for me, as a result, the writing was on the wall, or more to the point, on the Web.
So, this week, facing yet another Kaypro moment, I took the plunge. I poked around on the Internet, trying to find out how to establish a blog. Of course, all I had to do was google “how to start a blog” and instantly, there it was. At this particular site – blogspot – I followed the paint-by-number kind of directions, assembled the start-up information, inserted a photograph and a brief biography, registered my Barris Beat name and presto, I was posting my first blog.
Of course, you’ll always find my column in the Cosmos first. But instantly afterward and from wherever you are, you can now catch my wanderings and wonderings at barrisbeat.blogspot.com as well.