The card catalog: I was eleven years old when my mother marched me into the graduate research library of the University of Toronto, and taught me how to use their card catalog (printed on actual index cards) and the giant bound volumes that indexed each of the academic journals in the collection. I wrote high school essays on everything from Woodrow Wilson to the history of vice, each time burrowing my way through keywords and library shelves to find the answers I needed.
It has been nearly a decade since I last did research using printed books, but I use my card catalog skills on a daily basis. The ability to convert general questions into specific searchable keywords is the essential talent or any Google ninja, so my mom's insistence on developing library research skills has provided the foundation for quickly finding accurate information online.
The typewriter: Many of my women friends relate how their mothers discouraged them from learning to type, lest they be relegated to the secretarial pool. My mom took the opposite approach, first prodding and later outright bribing me into taking a touch-typing class. The electric typewriter I received as my reward was sidelined within a year by the arrival of our first home computer, and my comfort with QWERTY made me feel right at home on the new machine. Today, my wicked fast typing speed -- the product of a full thirty years of touch typing! -- means that I can blog as quickly as I can talk, or tweet as quickly as I can think. Without the barrier of hunt-and-peck, expressing myself online feels as intuitive as using that old IBM Selectric.
Microfiche: Some family basements house rec rooms or workshops. Ours housed the microfilm and microfiche reader my mother used for her research on Ancient Egypt, peering into the screen to fill in the gaps in a photo of a decayed piece of papyrus. She taught me zip through reels of newspaper archives, skimming just enough of the text to quickly find the relevant article or date. That ability to power through screen after screen of text, zooming in on the one phrase or fragment of interest, is what keeps me afloat in an online world that hurls forth volumes of links and articles each day.
Thank-you notes: Stocking up for a birthday in our house meant buying cake, ice cream, and a box of note cards. No sooner did I finish unwrapping my presents then my mom set me to work, writing heartfelt thank-yous to each person who had given me a present. While I longed for the freedom to play with my new Barbie, I clutched at the pen until my hand cramped, and eventually made it through the pile. I can't remember when I last wrote a pen-on-paper thank-you, or even sent a personal letter via snail mail, but the habit of courtesy has translated to the online world. While my thank-yous go out via e-mail and Twitter, the discipline behind it -- to send thanks at the earliest possible moment -- has helped me develop online and collegial relationships in which appreciation is the norm and not the exception.