Headmaster’s Thoughts – July 2014

I have a confession to make: I am a FreeCell junkie. I am addicted to the solitaire game of FreeCell. It is the game that comes free with all Windows operating systems. It is on your computer. If you want to stop reading this and play it now, I will understand.

I rarely carry a cell phone. I use my computer all the time, but I do not in any way consider myself tech savvy (two words that had little meaning when I was growing up.) I like one object to do one operation. So although I own a cell phone, I prefer to take photographs on a camera. I want a real compass to tell me where North is. I prefer reading a newspaper to downloading one on my iPad. I like books written on paper. It is enough for me that cars have wireless radios in them. The idea of talking to the phone built into the car does not appeal to me. I liked those old bright red public phone boxes that we had on the sides of roads in England when I was growing up. I was used to seeing Superman changing in American phone booths. If someone invented a combination refrigerator, microwave oven, television, and telephone, I would not buy it. I still have to get used to toilets that flush by themselves because some photoelectric cell has been triggered by my movement (and I get the pun!)

Paradoxically, I am intrigued by educational gadgets. We had computers at York Prep from their earliest days. We no longer have blackboards but have interactive whiteboards instead. We are getting a three dimensional printer and are teaching coding next year. But that is all for the students. They are born into a world of technology. If something goes wrong with my email, I know that most sixth graders will know how to fix it. This is their destiny. They do not play FreeCell; they play incredibly complicated alternative universe games. If I represent the “transitional technological” generation, they are the “arrived technological” generation.

In our home, we used to have an old pinball machine. It was called “Gorgar.” When the pinball hit a certain button, the machine said “Gorgar” in a deep and threatening voice. I loved that machine, perhaps because a similar machine existed in the transport café (a working man’s tea shop) in London when I was a boy. The machine then was far simpler than Gorgar, but the principle was the same: you flipped the flippers and tried to keep the ball in play as it hit bumpers and fell in holes from which it was magically ejected. I can buy a similar game for my iPad. It has all the special effects and the principle is the same, but I have no interest in a virtual ball; I miss the real thing.

I do not envy the technological knowledge of our youth. I envy their youth (like all old people) but not the tech-savvy part. I prefer live performances to television, and I regret the increasing average age of the crowd at the Metropolitan Opera (which is why every year I take the entire senior class to a working rehearsal at the Met.) I love playing cards with my own children; we play Hearts. Real cards, real children! I have said somewhere previously in one of these thoughts that I am absolutely no good at “Skyping.” I loom all over the screen and feel frustrated at not being able to tousle the hair of a grandchild or pass them a book.

I am not a total dinosaur. If I were, then I would be playing Solitaire with real cards on a table. FreeCell is only a very small step for technology, but for me it is a giant leap. Anyway, enough with the self-driving cars, the combination refrigerator-microwave-telephones, the virtual pinball, and these headmaster’s thoughts; I am going to play another game of FreeCell.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster

E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org