We added, we subtracted, we multiplied, we divided, we studied the world according to Euclid and algebra according to Mr. Joe Brown. Then came the trigonometry tables and the logarithm tables, followed by instructions on the use of slide rules. 

The first semester at the state university began with a fine aluminum slide rule. The ultimate slide rule, however, was made of bamboo and didn’t expand or contract due to temperature changes. Affordable bamboo slide rules became available as students were able to purchase the newest technology. The newest technology could only be ordered from the manufacturer. There were two primary sources, Hewlett-Packard and a newcomer, Texas Instruments. The basic hand-held calculator with trigonometric functions from Hewlett-Packard would set you back about four hundred fifty dollars. Texas Instrument impacted the market when their basic hand-held calculator with the same functions sold for a mere one hundred sixty-nine dollars.

It was the perception that these were assembled post-order, so a sizable time delay was associated with the purchase. The calculator was ordered and paid for, then the countdown began. During that time, each calculation completed with the now obsolete slide rule was accompanied by angst.

If the “keeping up with technology” burden wasn’t enough, include a computer science class in the semester schedule. Almost every student on campus would be required to take this class, but unless you were a computer science major, you would occupy a place at the back of the line when it came time to run your programs. But that place could only be taken after the tedious task of writing the program, banging it out on the keypunch, and re-assembling the keypunch cards in the correct order after dropping them in a mud puddle when trying to rush to the computer science building. Once they were ran through the keypunch reader and the program was sent from that campus to Columbia where the actual mainframe computer resided, and if there were no errors, you would be able to pick up the printout containing the results of you program later the next day. Oh, you had an error, well that could mean you start all over, maybe replace any damaged cards, or best-case scenario, re-assemble the order of the cards.

Over the years staying abreast of the technology was not difficult. With a career in an area where technology was utilized, it was convenient to adapt and learn as new items became available. Our VCR never sat with 12:00 blinking on the display forever. In fact, I would synchronize every clock in my house if it were up to me. The good wife insists on one of them being fifteen, or twenty minutes ahead at all times. I don’t get that! If you know it is fast, how does that help? 

Anyway, don’t assume that due to my age, I don’t know how to use my cell phone, set my DVR, search for things on my laptop or the internet. I have seen the roots of this growth and it all began with addition.

-Paul Richardson is the proprietor of In Sane Marketing Solutions. He writes a weekly column, The Horse I Rode In On, for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser.