Sam Katz: My So-Called Digital Life

From dip switches to nearly 5,000 friends on Facebook

Okay. I admit it. I have become a Facebook freak. My son confirmed it to me last night with a high five. It started harmlessly enough, just like every stage of my digital life. I just wanted to know what this computer stuff was all about.

There is a little history here. Back in 1983 my knees were knocking as I stood in line at the NYNEX store on Walnut and purchased my first computer, an IBM-XT. I paid $3,200. No wonder I was scared. When I brought “the thing” home, the instructions required that I flip something called a “dip switch.” This was a small plastic thing in the back of the computer guts. As soon as I saw it, I knew my computing days were going to be brief if I laid one finger on the dip switch. So I waited until my 14-year-old neighbor could find the time to come over and flip my dip switch. That took two weeks.

A decade later, I was in a store in Ardmore when I signed up for something called an “Internet service provider,” whatever that was. It came with an e-mail address and something called Mosaic, a browser that would connect me to the World Wide Web. No one had e-mail so there was no one to communicate with. But I became a cyber entity anyway: There were virtually no pages to browse on the Web. The only functional thing available was FTP (no, not the florist, but file transfer protocol). This would enable me to send the large volumes of data in my possession to other scientists or researchers. That sounded really valuable. Sign me up.

Over time, as my business needs evolved, I became the go-to IT officer of the Katz family. My role in that critical position was, of course, short lived.

Social networking changed everything. I was suddenly excluded, banned to pre-cyber-history. Oh, Dad. Just stick with your spreadsheets and your old-fashioned e-mail. You aren’t going to want to chat, blog or instant message. No, you cannot have a Facebook account! We don’t want you wandering into our friends’ groups. They laughed at me when I said I wanted to be a “Tweeder.” I would be Linked In, YouTubed, Vimeoed. I needed not to fall behind.

Well, look at me now! I am followed by almost 150 people on Twitter (@samkatz60). I am closing in on the maximum number of Facebook friends: 5,000. People are lining up to get the final 700 spots. (Truth be told, I actually know some of my FB friends but not too many). I Skype when I travel and call my international friends regularly. I G-chat constantly. My FB skills have so expanded that I can now upload photos I take with my smartphone and watch the comments roll in. I blog right here and then blast it out through my FB and Twitter distribution channels. I post great music videos as well as the history programs we are producing. I am fast becoming a subscriber to the digital cloud.

In short, my life has migrated from living it in real color onto a social media platform. Lucky me! I haven’t fallen behind.