Do you remember that scene in Aliens when Ripley climbed into that robotic armor and kicked serious butt? I do. For her, the technology made her stronger. It allowed her to extend her reach, it increased her strength, and let’s be honest it looked pretty cool!
Last week, I spent a few hours with a machine. The machine I communed with, like Ripley’s, armor extended my reach, in an intellectual context it made me more powerful, but unfortunately it didn’t make me look super cool. Ripley had armor, I had a microfiche viewer.
So let me break it down for you. You might be wondering how I would ever be able to compare these two pieces of technology.
1. Extending my reach: Just like Ripley’s armor the microfiche extends my reach. How you ask? Why it extends my reach back into history of course! In the two hours I spent in front of this machine, I was able to scan through of weekly newspapers published in Toronto from 1917-1919.
2. Increased power: Do I need to remind you all that Knowledge is power? I didn’t think so. The microfiche didn’t increase the strength of my punch, but it did increase my knowledge. For example, I learned that most front pages in 1917 were devoted to the discussion of conscription. Behold my power!!
3. Cool looking: Admittedly, the microfiche lacks the inherent coolness that Ripley’s armor possessed. However, the microfiche is not without it’s own unique beauty. Notice in the image above that the microfiche has a nostalgic quality that reminds me of the classic lines of an Atari system or my old commodore 64. It’s the same phenomenon that makes people eat at Fifty’s diners. Old stuff is cool.
So that’s my argument. The microfiche might be a relic of the past, but it has its own advantages. It the loudest thing permitted in the library. If you’ve never used a microfiche, try one and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If you were ever to make that much noise doing anything else in the library, you’d surely get kicked out. But when you’re using the microfiche you can be loud vicariously through the machine. Just wait till you have to rewind the reel. It really sounds like a small helicopter is landing in the library! Literally, everyone will be looking at you with annoyed glares as they try to read or study.
It’s really great fun.
I encourage you, before you graduate, try a microfiche machine. Microfiche is the only way to view a large category of historic documents that have yet to be digitized. If you have patience, it’s a great underused resource for researching at the University.