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Trending to Low-Tech

By: Jeff Shelley


It's not like I've been a life-long rube when it comes to technology. In 1980, I convinced the engineering company I was working for to buy a word processor. In those pre-PC (as in personal computer) days, these were standalone behemoths that were just coming to market.

I brought in salesmen from Wang, Burroughs, IBM and Compucorp to hear their spiels. I was impressed with the latter manufacturer and its word processor with a whopping 64K of random access memory, floppy-disk storage, ability to do columns of text and other new features that, since, have long been expected from the most basic units.

I thought the company could save money by not subcontracting out the "galleys" - long rolls of typesetting that would have to be cut, waxed and pasted to make page layouts prior to printing. So I talked the boss into getting an impact - and not a cheap, hard-to-read dot-matrix printer. I can't remember the exact model, but it produced what was then an astounding 13 words a minute.

Unfortunately, the printer was so loud that the engineers slaving away at neighboring desks got irate, claiming the clatter interrupted their trains of thought. So we bought this barn-like structure that muted the noise and peace came to our department.

The total cost for the word processor, printer and sound baffler: right around $14,000.

Before venturing into writing golf books, editing magazines and doing freelance work, I bought an Apple IIc, the iconic company's first "portable computer." It was fine for word processing and, with its dazzling color monitor, especially games. "Lode Runner" was a family favorite.

But then we got a Macintosh, which promised the capacity for "desktop publishing." Suddenly, I could write stories, download them into a program like Adobe's Pagemaker, and do books. After having the first edition of my book, "Golf Courses of the Pacific Northwest," issued by a "real" publisher in the traditional manner (with color separations of photos running upwards of $300 apiece), I used that fanciful Mac to publish "The Northwest Golfer's Almanac."

The black-and-white almanac, which contained all the historical, agronomic and other tidbits about Pacific Northwest golf that had been unceremoniously cut by the "Golf Courses" publisher, was a 168-page handbook published in 1991 and done entirely on a Mac. I wrote and produced the pages in my home office, and my graphic-designer wife Anni scanned the photos at her office, which I then "dropped" into the book via Pagemaker.

The almanac didn't sell very many copies (I still have 3,000 of them), primarily because the original printer, contrary to his assertions, couldn't do books (through three separate runs of 5,000 copies apiece, about 200 were salable). So I went to another printer. But by that time I was sick of trying to peddle this $7.95 gem ($9.95 Canadian - which indicates the shifting fortunes of the American economy over the past two decades).

After doing more books and editing magazines through the '90s, I went to work for Cybergolf in 2000, returning once again to the cutting edge of technology. Our company's founder, Dan Murnan, estimates that only 15 percent of golf courses knew about the Internet when he started Cybergolf in 1995. Now, an online presence for courses is an absolute must, and Dan, a quiet, unassuming sort, should be given a lot of credit for advancing the Internet as a valuable marketing tool for the golf industry.

Over the years we've taken forays into various "Web initiatives," some pretty crazy in the nascent highfalutin days of the Internet, before settling on our current business model, which is to design, build and host websites for golf courses and provide them with e-marketing tools to promote their facilities.

We've also gotten into mobile platforms and offer a cool service called GolfRev, which allows courses to offer discounts on rounds, equipment, etc., along with other online products and services. All these Cybergolf offerings are intended to enhance the golfer's experience and improve our clients' bottom lines.

With so many ways people now going online via smart phones, tablet computers, etc., we've had to adapt our systems to stay up with the advancing technologies.

Sadly, I haven't been quite as adaptive or "cutting edge" as I was 30 years ago. I have an iPhone, but use it mainly to make and receive calls. I can navigate my way around it, but don't have much motivation to fully explore its many remarkable features and apps.

Perhaps my reluctance is due to my feelings that these new handheld devices may be creating a socially inept generation of people, a group victimized by what I'll call the "ostrich syndrome."

I didn't coin the term; Edward Goldsmith did, in 1970. This Anglo-French author and environmentalist said during a speech that, instead of facing the facts about our planet's increasing environmental problems, politicians, businessmen and scientists fight over superficial issues instead of tackling the really important problems which, in the case of the dwindling quality of the world's environment and global warming, continues 40-plus years after Goldsmith's talk.

My version of the "ostrich syndrome" is related to social media and the increasing addiction to mobile phones. Though less vital than tackling what Goldsmith rightly considered real threats to human existence, my usage is just as pertinent.

As an example, how many times have you been walking down a sidewalk when another person approaches and, instead of saying hello or giving even a simple head nod, grabs his or her phone to avoid making personal contact?

I remember being in a restaurant about three years ago and seeing a couple at a small table - sitting not two feet apart - texting each other. I've also observed way too many people driving at 60 mph while calling or texting.

The incidence of non-alcohol-related pedestrian and motorist injuries - and many deaths - has increased dramatically in recent years as people are too distracted by their phones.

In the not-so-distant future, the pocket-protector-wearing nerds of yesteryear will be considered flamboyant socialites compared to the clammed-up, walled-in mobile-device users of today.

No one seems to say hi anymore; devotion to mobile electronic devices just seems more important than the person coming toward them.

The irony is that as PED addicts are cutting off their immediate real worlds, they're likely rambling around in some social-media sphere - Facebooking, tweeting or God-knows-what-else - talking about personal exploits and "virtually" communicating with others.

Meanwhile, they're denying themselves a chance at real, first-hand interaction, a once-common event that's become rarer and rarer in today's world.

I keep getting people - who I barely know - wanting to "friend" me. Besides not wanting to be thrown into their webs of self-glory, why don't they use that phone and call me?

I suppose, one could argue, that I'm suffering from the ostrich syndrome for keeping my head in the sand as smart phones and their like proliferate. But my concern is based solely on how these devices are seemingly becoming a replacement for face-to-face contact.

I think it's important to remember that technology - whether an antique word processor or the latest and greatest high-tech gadget - should always be considered a tool and a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Jeff Shelley is Cybergolf's editorial director.

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