This day in tech history: A freakout about numbers

On this day in 1964, Austin American-Statesman subscribers read what was, I'm sure, intended to be a tongue-in-cheek criticism of our country's obsession with numbers.

Fifty years later, it is an absolutely fascinating window into our country's trepidation about new technology, and growing reliance on data by tagging everything with a number.

Austinite Marj Wightman starts the column by complaining about getting her nail color confused with her ZIP code. She longs for the days when products were known by their names.

What's to blame for all of this? Computers.

"Then came the computers," Wightman writes, "jazzy miracles of electronics with the quick-wittedness of a house fly... numbers, numbers, numbers became the fashion of the hour."

The column ends by noting all the numbers Wightman has to remember, from her telephone number to her house number and ZIP code.

I wondered how Wightman is surviving the 21st century. If she was disappointed by numbers, I can only imagine her frustration at memorizing 10-digit passwords that have at least one symbol, one number and one capitalized letter.  Each one has to be unique and you shouldn't re-use them.

So I called Wightman up. She's still alive, in her 90s, and living in Austin. Wightman said she worked for the American-Statesman for six and a half years in the 1950s and '60s.

Then we got down to it: how is she handling all these technological changes? Apparently just fine, because Wightman said she doesn't own a computer and never has. When I asked her about the Internet, Wightman said she didn't understand what I was asking about.

Well, that's one way to avoid having to memorize any passwords.

Read Wightman's column for yourself below:

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