The world today is inarguably infiltrated with technology and the realm of the cowboy is no different. The majority of them have mastered the use of a cell phone, even won the humbling battle of the “smart phone.” They have an email address and those on the younger end understand Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Selfies in cowboy hats are not uncommon.
I won’t venture to say it’s progress, however, there are some things a computer can’t do. And a cowboy who doesn’t know a thing about a computer will quickly tell you exactly what those things are.
As technology perseveres into the pasture, science becomes part of cowboying. Select cattle are implanted with computer chips that hold all sorts of individual data. As the need to track cattle origins from the pasture to the meat counter tops and feed efficiency info hits the priority list, “data-based cowboying” is on the rise.
Feed programs, breeding programs, market watch and cattle sales are a few items on a long list of things in the cow business that have gone computerized. In all this, what happens to the everyday run-of-the mill denim-garbed, leather-shod, felt-hat-wearing, colt-riding cowboy?
Some years ago Dan Roberts, a Texas cowboy, singer and song writer wrote and released an album and song called Cowhand.Com. The title cut takes a humorous look at the adventures of a cowboy who hires onto an outfit that is basically run by computers, not seasoned cowboys.
The misadventures of this technologically challenged cowboy who longs for the old days tell a story that was perhaps more prophetic that Roberts ever dreamed it would be. His intention was a witty take on the concept but the result was an outline of the real dilemma of crossing a cowboy with a computer.
The lyrics point out that no machine ever shod a horse, pulled a calf or broke a bronc to ride. The laptop in his saddle bags got dusty riding drag and all that talk about menus, a mouse and booting up had the cowboy telling his boss to stick that Pentium right in his AOL and pointing out that megabyte-ram-thing sounded inbred.
Book learnin’ as they would call it, isn’t foreign to cowboys, it just comes from books and takes place after dark when the work is done. My cowboy dad was a fiend for learning and was an easy mark for the encyclopedia salesman that somehow found us at the head of Muddy Creek where not many strangers trod.
We had not one, but several sets of encyclopedias just in case we four children needed to look something up. He also bought every update published for years after and several sets of assorted “how to” encyclopedias.
He learned taxidermy, beer making, electronics, mechanics, veterinary and many other useful things from his “how to” books. I often wonder what he would have done with the wealth of knowledge offered in today’s world with the touch of keyboard.
Computerizing the cowboy way will only go so far. Technology has extended to providing data for the genetic, nutritional and medicinal history of a cow as well as her history of residence for her lifetime. The good news for the cowboy is it still takes man to bring the cow to the corral.
The statistical information can be downloaded from computer to computer, from hard drive to CD, flash drive or even sent to the printer. But the paper trail through the office will never completely replace the cow trail through the pasture.
And that cow? She is going to download her own nutritional history into the same green pile she always did. And so far, there isn’t even an “app for that.”
Julie can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.