First Things

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Terry L. Welch

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Traveling to Brooks, Ore., in June, I missed a connecting flight and ended up waiting for the next flight for six hours in the Denver airport. While wasting time in one of the airport lounges, I joined a table of similarly stranded travelers and, as it always does, the subject of employment arose. The very well-dressed woman sitting across from me worked for one of those technology companies you've heard about, but whose name I will not mention. She had one of those job titles which, when you really pick it apart, doesn't seem to really mean anything -like systems consultant or media manager - and you couldn't tell what she might actually do on a daily basis. She explained that her job was, basically, to go around figuring out why certain computer systems weren't working. She didn't do this herself, but oversaw dozens of people. It wasn't an easy job, she implied.

I could sympathize with her. The Farm Collector computers have often been the cause of anger here in our offices, not to mention the breaking of at least one commandment.

When it was my turn, I told them what I do and received some weird looks. One guy seemed astonished. 'There are enough people who collect old tractors to give them their own magazine?' I didn't tell him that it was more than just tractors and that we are one of several magazines in the field. 'Why do people collect that stuff?'

I gave him some answers that our readers sent me after my very first writing in this space: nostalgia, historical value, etc.

It wasn't until I had sat on the plane on the tarmac for nearly an hour (due to a computer error), that I realized the answer I should have given. I should have said that there was a time when machines that people used were only used to make things easier. They weren't needed. Any farmer using the first 'traction engines' probably had plow-callused hands and could have hitched old dobbin back up if the machines let him down. And when those machines did break down, the reason was often quite evident and could usually be fixed by one man with a wrench.

There is something wonderful in lack of necessity and in simplicity. Sitting in that hot pipe with wings, I thought of the computer that I'm typing on right now and knew that, if it died, I would have no idea how I could send you all a magazine. It's no fun to need something. Maybe that's why I collect typewriters.