When the first computer entered our home I kept my distance.
When friends began conversations in cyber language I simply replied, in a somewhat defensive and arrogant tone, that I was a Luddite. Luddites, the artisans who threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the machines of the early industrial revolution, were slow to embrace change.
As I saw my 8-year-old grandson leaping ahead of me into the World Wide Web, I slowly approached the new machine that had found a quasi-permanent place on our kitchen table.
A few decades ago, we students at Oliver High were expected to memorize lines of the great writers of the English-speaking world. It was a pretty Eurocentric curriculum.
Watching friends and family as they spent more and more time at the computer I recalled the words of Alexander Pope we had to memorize for Miss Kiskadden. Concerning human vices, Pope said, that we “first endure, then pity, then embrace.” And that was the very process that sucked me into Internet.
The hook of history, local and family, drew me into hours of sitting blurry-eyed in front of my iMac . Historic Pittsburgh, eBay and the Google Newspaper Archives became my favorites.
From eBay I was able to purchase a “Stauffer Dairy — Allegheny” milk bottle that was delivered from my great grandfather’s dairy operation on West Market Street in Manchester.
A few months later I purchased a bottle from the “Summer Hill Water Co.” that was located on Hazlett Street in Summer Hill in the late 19th century. This company marketed bottled water drawn from a natural spring along the East Street valley a half a century before the likes of Evian and Dasani became the rage. Historic Pittsburgh gave me a personal connection with the Summer Hill operation in that it was owned by my grandfather’s brother, my great uncle, who I never met.
My most interesting personal discovery was an article — in fact the only article — I found about any family member in the Google Newspaper Archive site. It was a small blurb from the the May 10, 1904, edition of the Pittsburgh Press. Here I learned that Allegheny City patrolman Robert Canning, my great grandfather shot a “maddened bull” at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sedgewick Street in Manchester.
Seems the bull was being driven to a meat dealer in the Allegheny Market and attempted to avoid its fate. That was probably the only time “Pappy” Canning made the papers until he died a few years later.
Were it not for these few websites through which I haphazardly navigate,these tidbits of history would have remained lost to me. So at the end of 2010 the vice of the cyber world has been embraced by an aging Luddite.
I do encourage all fellow Luddites out there in the hills and valleys of the Northside to give it a try. You can even begin what might become a cyber addiction free of charge at the Allegheny and Woods Run branches of the Carnegie Library.