Creating Careers

Though technology has certainly affected Western society, it has profoundly altered my personal life as well. I was first introduced to a more technical way of looking at computers in eighth grade when I was first employed by my high school’s IT Support Office. I learned how to create images and distribute them, make Ethernet cables, transfer data, manage networks and Active Directory, fix hardware issues, and act as customer support for teachers. I absolutely loved this job and the empowerment it provided. At the age of thirteen I was providing assistance to adults and handling issues that they were incompetent to solve. I quickly realized that knowing how to manipulate computers could be more than a hobby – it could be a career. I stayed with the tech office for all four years of high school during the summer and worked it during the school year as well during my senior year. The last summer, I researched, ordered, and installed more than $12,000 of video editing equipment and software in a new media lab and then provided updates and other services to the lab over the course of the year.

I currently work at ConAgra Foods, Inc in a role very similar to my high school job. The ConAgra IT Internship program moves interns through different rotations every 4 to 6 months, and my first rotation is in Desktop Support. I support Buildings One and Five of the downtown ConAgra World Headquarters. My main responsibilities include network-based imaging and data transfer for tech refreshes, managing inventory, performing hardware strips and repairs, servicing phones, and terminating old machines. I am learning many industry strength programs such as CCleaner, Remedy, Argis, RichCopy, MCConfig and AD that allow me to quickly and remotely assist ConAgra employees to keep downtime minimal and productivity high. All this is due to the permeation of technology throughout the corporate infrastructure of every large company. Without technology, I would not be employed today; without my current employment, I would be unable to pay for study abroad next fall because very few other fields offer the competitive wages that IT does.

Digital Humanities Representation

Though I am a Computer Science and Informatics major, I am primarily an English major. I hope to one day teach literature at the collegiate level. Though these two fields may seem completely unconnected, technology is again providing a bridge that allows mutual appreciation and understanding. The burgeoning area of digital humanities helps scholars to process big data in new, innovative methods that allow users to better visualize and understand texts. I currently perform research with Dr. Bridget Keegan on eighteenth century British laboring class poetry. Along with the help of a few other undergraduates and a master’s candidate, we are trying to create a digital database and website cataloging the biographies of thousands of poets. The digital nature of the project allows easy collaboration with peers in Glasgow, Scotland where the copyright holders of the original text reside and many of the LC poets lived. Eventually, the website will allow users to truly see the data, perhaps through interactive maps that chart poetry hotspots or through searchable tags that return related authors.

Technology is central to my personal identity as well. I use Skype and Facebook to communicate with friends from Georgia to Iowa to California. My phone has replaced my music player, GPS, and PSP; my laptop has replaced my desktop, DVD player and stereo system. These devices can process so much media and handle so many tasks that they have become nearly inseparable parts of my life. Without mobile email and calendar notifications it would be impossible for to make it through an average day:

  • Wake up at 8:30
  • Class at 9:30
  • Class at 11:00
  • Work from 1:00 until 5:00
  • Service from 5:00 until 7
  • Meeting for Shadows at 7:00
  • Working out at 7:30
  • Meeting for IRHG at 8:30
  • Meeting for Phi Psi at 9:30
  • IM Basketball game at 10:30
  • Homework from midnight until 3

Between my classes I managed to sneak into a professor’s office hours for a quick paper review and obtain a necessary signature for study abroad. There was no possible way I could have set up those appointments without being able to gauge my schedule and email on the go. Like it or not, until the world decides to slow down, mobile technology will continue to reign supreme. There is a need for it, even though part of the need is created by the technology itself.

Breaking Digital Chains

Technology is omnipresent in contemporary American society. Electronics permeate every facet of our lives, from the iHome alarm waking us up to the smartphone calendar update reminding us of our next work meeting. While there are many obvious benefits to technology, the mobile and persistent nature of new tech tends to isolate users from their social surroundings instead of enhancing relationships.

I recently purchased a new smartphone because I accidentally drowned my previous phone in a hot tub. After a few weeks, I thought the battery life seemed exceptionally poor. I checked the rated life, and I was getting significantly less life despite having the screen dimmed. After examining all my settings, however, I realized that it was probably due to leaving on push notifications. These push notifications sent my email, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, and Amazon accounts through to my pocket instantly. I decided to turn off the push for everything but eBay (I occasionally sell items there, so a quick response is legitimately necessary) and set my email to only check every 2 hours. I soon noticed a battery life increase, but even sooner realized the sheer amount of time I had been wasting on those “social” networking sites. Instead of checking Facebook every 15 or 20 minutes, I now only look at it once daily or so. I rarely check Twitter at all anymore. By shutting off the insistent push, I broke the instinctual habit of checking my phone during any down time and now tend to focus on actually talking to the people around me instead.

Last summer, I met someone who was even worse than I was about constantly using a phone. While hiking the Superior Hiking Trail in northern Minnesota with some friends, I met a hiker who not only brought his phone with him, but carried along a solar charger so that he could use it the entire time. He didn’t even realize we were passing him until we came into his line of vision because he was listening to music on his phone. I found the intrusion of technology into the beautiful wilderness disturbing, a self-contained comment on the American addiction to devices.

Do I consider myself a slave to technology? No, I do not; I know how to program, to hack a computer into doing what I desire. Today’s computers are still unimaginably stupid, and programming truly requires babying the compiler. But fifty years ago, programs were basically incomprehensible to the casual reader. In twenty or thirty years, I have no doubt that I will be amazed at the state of technology; programming languages will likely develop to the point where programs can nearly be written as a normal English set of instructions. Though I am not a slave to technology, I do recognize tech as a moving force within my own life. It often attempts to snare me into using it more than I really wish to. It requires an intelligent and strong-willed user to master the technology instead of allowing it to consume your time and energy.