Wednesday, January 26, 2005

computers and the generation gap

I had a strange realization today. I was thinking about job applications, as per usual. I really do not want to do any snail-mail applications. I have this- perhaps prejudiced?- feeling that schools who eschew, or are not ready for, electronic applications, are not going to be ready for the likes of me.

I grew up with computers. Literally. We started with a Texas Instruments machine when I was about 5 years old, and now I am the proud owner of a Macintosh G4 running OS X . I know a little unix, a little html, etc. But I am not a computer programmer by training and I don't spend a lot of time honing my skills.

However, I am a big proponent of using computers. Although I never want to be on a computer 24-7, I really like having my laptop at work, having wireless internet at work and at home, and all the opportunities and conveniences that affords me.

I think a lot about what computers might someday be able to do for me. I love trying out new programs- I think all companies should have 30-day trials on all software. Why would I buy something for $200+ if I can't try it out first? I have a huge wishlist of programs and hardware that simply do not exist yet, and I'm just waiting for someone who will figure out how to make them work.

Actually I am big on wishlists in general. I started my lab wishlist a few years ago and I just keep improving on it. Toys are good. It's one of the more fun things about science.

So, my point about the generation gap. I was thinking about what kinds of schools ask for snail-mail applications for faculty positions. I'm guessing either the members of the search committee don't have computers, don't have enough staff to print the stuff out for them, or they simply haven't thought of it/don't know what's involved. Alternatively, the administration is against switching to an electronic format, or they simply don't have the resources to facilitate having an up-to-date computer support staff on campus.

None of these possibilities is appealing to me. Would I want to work someplace like that?

And then it hit me: some of the more senior, tenured faculty are old enough to be my parents. These are the people likely to be on the search committee, right?

There is no way these people are going to take me seriously. They're going to think I'm about as mature and responsible as their own daughters (and after what Larry Summers said on Monday about his own daughter, this does not bode well).

More to the point, some of them are almost as old as my grandparents. If they haven't been forced to use computers- and I have run into some faculty who still refuse to even use email - they aren't going to learn before they retire.

Are these people going to be my colleagues?

This is pretty much the same way I feel about Congress. I think people who are still as sharp and energetic and open to new things at 60 as they were at 30 are extremely rare. Lord knows I'm not remotely as energetic (or smart) as I was ten years ago. Maybe we should think harder about forced retirement.

So where does that leave me? Is it worth it to even apply to these places that are apparently trapped in the Dark Ages?

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