Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Survey Says . . .

Mr. Junior-High-Science-Teacher used to like to show us "film-strips." These, naturally, bore the brunt of much mockery. They were a little jumpy, they genuinely started out with that number count-down which films like to add in for retro-effect nowadays, the picture was kind of grainy, and the narration was kind of grainy, too. I'm not sure if this was because we were in the 80's or if it's because these film-strips were actually older than the 80's.

Anyway, I guess they were probably pretty boring, and, as I say, all my classmates made fun of them. I sort of secretly liked them, though--maybe because it was something different, and maybe because it was pictures, and even grainy pictures were better than "drawing sketches," which was the other thing Mr. Junior-High-Science-Teacher used to like to have us do. I have numerous memories of the beginnings of these film strips (4, 3, 2 and then a POP of light, and then usually a picture of the Milky Way Galaxy or something and a man's disembodied voice). But I only really remember what two of them were about.

One was about GPS, which, until a couple of years ago, I had relegated in my head to other unfulfilled promises of my childhood ("By the time you're an adult, the US will have converted to the metric system" being the most cliched one, followed until recently by, "By the time you're out of college, they will have built a tunnel system under Boston to decrease the volume of commuter traffic." They now have the tunnel--finally--but I don't know that it's significantly improved the volume of commuter traffic).

The other film-strip I actually remember was about land-surveying. I'm not sure why we were watching a film-strip about land-surveying. I have no idea what we were studying in science that would have made this relevant. I furthermore have very little idea why this film-strip, among all others, is so embedded in my brain, unless it was the question, "Who would want to be this when they grew up?" which lodged it there. I remember being more or less mystified as to what the point of land surveillance was, and I certainly never did figure out how those weird camera-looking things worked. But, in spite of being somewhat agog that anyone could find this a fulfilling career choice, I remember being sort of excited and impressed the first time I saw anyone on the side of the road using one of said weird camera-looking things. I guess I felt a little bit like I was witnessing a celebrity in action. After all, I had seen land-surveyors on a film-strip.

Today I saw some more, and every time I do, I think of junior high and that film-strip, and sometimes I think that, in spite of the fact that the Big Dig is finally over (more or less) and people now have GPS's in their cars--whoa--we still haven't established the metric system as the dominant "rule" of measurement in this country, and land surveillance technology doesn't look like it's changed much since the 1980's either. Although it may have, I suppose. But I'll probably never know without another film-strip to tell me about it.

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