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    Why I don’t have time for Facebook or to tweet on Twitter

    It is well that I write about the past, because I don’t understand the present. Or at least, not today’s ever-changing digital technology.


    Aerial view showing Wapta Mountain (left) with the main Burgess Shale sites (WQ: Walcott Quarry; RQ: Raymond Quarry; CQ: Collins Quarry).© ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM. PHOTO: JEAN-BERNARD CARON.

    Aerial view showing Wapta Mountain (left) with the main Burgess Shale sites (WQ: Walcott Quarry; RQ: Raymond Quarry; CQ: Collins Quarry).© ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM.

    I don’t understand our new television set. We have three hand-held remote control units, for the television set, for the cable service, and for our VCR. I counted 162 buttons on the three remote controls. I vaguely understand what five or six of them do. But Joan and I got a big surprise on a recent Saturday evening.

    We checked available programs on the cable remote, and debated about choices: Splendor in the Grass, a classic movie with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood; a baseball game; and a football game with the Calgary Stampeders and the Toronto Argonauts. We chose the football game.

    No sooner had the football game came up than a notice flashed across the screen advising us that  Splendor in the Grass was about to be recorded, as we had ordered. We had? How did that happen? We’ll never know.  Neither did we know how to stop it, except by blindly pushing buttons for what seemed like a very long time.

    I suppose I could take the time to learn the various functions of all those 162 buttons, but I won’t.

    I could take the Social Media course offered at our local college and learn about Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Bebo, Buzznet, and hundreds more. I could learn about smartphones that take photos and videos use GPS to tell me where I am.

    If scientists had been a little quicker, I could have used mobile communication tools 40 years ago when I travelled frequently across North American, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico. But today, we are content to leave our car in the garage as much as possible, except for social or pleasure use.

    I’m also content to communicate the old fashioned way, by email. I’m happy to use the Web to keep informed about the world with the New York Times (my home page), the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, et al, and by searching with a very few social media sites, such as Google.

    I don’t want to spend time learning about the latest tools and technologies, about Goodwizz and other such social media, and even more time using them. I want to learn things I need to know if I am to succeed in the undertaking I’ve carved out for my next four years or so. I’m hoping it will be the capstone of my life of writing, my 11th and most ambitious book.

    I’m armed with nine fat books, prodigious material from the Web sites of the Royal Ontario Museum, the Smithsonian Institute, and others as I read about geology, zoology, paleontology, and sedimentology; about such critters as prokayotes, eurakotees, labyrinth amphibians and paleoniscid fish; about the Cambrian, Ordovician and Carboniferous periods, with subdivisions such as Ediacaron and Moscovian, together with their flora and fauna that range in size from microorganisms to dinosaurs.

    If you think these things are dull, you are terribly wrong.

    Consider the small shelled marine animals that lived half a billion years ago near the shore of a sheltered sea basin. They were swept by mudslides 500 feet down to the bottom of the sea where there was neither light nor oxygen. They were buried and entombed in more mud that came down from the ridges around the sea basin. Their carcasses became fossils and the mud became limestone.  That limestone and the fossils now lie more than 7,000 feet above sea level on the spectacular face of a Rocky Mountain in British Columbia’s Yoho National Park, “The world’s most important animal fossils,” according to evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.

    Is that dull?

    Or considered Charles Doolittle Walcott, the man who discovered this fossil collection in 1909. Walcott’s formal education stopped short of completing high school but he pursued fossils with such tenacity and enthusiasm that he became a leading paleontologist, a long-serving head of the U.S. Geological Survey and later head of the Smithsonian Institute. Walcott, aided by his wife, daughter and sons, spent 15 years collecting 65,000 fossils from what is now known as the Burgess Shale, and he did little more than scratch the surface. But it took decades more of continued work by paleontologists and geologists to realize the full significance of the fossils in the Burgess Shale.

    Is that dull?

    But all this is for just one of about 20 chapters I hope to complete before my brain is fossilized. So I hope I may be excused for not having time for Facebook, Twitter, or Goodwizz.

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