Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Becoming a Part of History

The furthest thing from my mind was the possibility that any part of my family could be a part of history in my lifetime. Someone who is a head of state is a part of history. But we are just ordinary people.
I suppose I should have considered this possibility almost twenty years ago when my daughter asked me to help find an artifact of the 20th Century to bring to school.
It was the 1990s and I had some old stuff I had purchased from antique stores that I was sure would qualify. However, not much of it was small enough to fit in her backpack or for her to easily carry. I did have a cast iron, hand-cranked coffee grinder that was manufactured about 1910.
I used it a few times when I first acquired it, but the electric coffee grinder was faster and easier to use. To me it fit the bill. It was quite lovely, painted black with gold leafing, but very heavy. My daughter refused to take it to school. So back to the drawing board,
I started going through some boxes looking for something that she could manage. Then I spied a slide rule that I had from college. I hadn't used it in so many years that it wouldn't move.
How could something I used in high school and college be an artifact? Completely unfathomable after all I am not that old! My daughter had not even heard of a slide rule. She'd never seen one. Since it was lightweight and something she could put in her backpack, she decided to take it. My husband, with a little WD-40, got the slide rule working and showed her how to use it.
Neither of us could believed that we had become old enough that something we regularly used not all that long ago was an artifact. As shocking as that notion was to us, neither of us conceived of a day in which one of us might be included in a history book.
But now it's nearly twenty years past.
Last fall, my husband was interviewed by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. His interview is part of an oral history exhibit that the museum is creating. Forty years ago, he was a graduate student working on an interesting project. The students were having fun and no one thought what they were doing would make history.
Fifteen years ago interest in the beginnings of the Internet was just emerging. In 1996, Katie Hafner published her book, "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet." She interviewed him and there is a brief mention of him in the book.
Ten years ago, interest in the evolution of the Internet, again emerged. Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, at UCLA, waged a successful PR campaign to identify the beginning of the Internet as October 29, 1969. As a result, my husband was interviewed by San Francisco Bay Area newspapers and radio stations concerning his involvement on that date.
The fall of 2009 was a different story. Maybe it was shocking to people to learn that the Internet was germinated over forty years ago. It is so 21st Century! How can it be a product of the mid 20th century?
More people seemed to be interested in how the Internet came to be. In October, my husband became a mini-celebrity. He was incredibly flattered when someone asked for his autograph. He was on Cloud-nine after an Office Depot employee recognized him and asked to have his picture taken with my husband.
Several months have passed and he is just a regular guy again. No more requests for photos or autographs. But I am still shocked that my husband's voice, image and story is preserved in a museum.

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