I can’t pin down the exact xmas my family got a computer, possibly because I was young, possibly because I don’t remember dates very well, more likely because that’s what falling in love is like. For example, I could figure out the year/month/day when I met The Spouse if given enough time to think about it, but it feels like we’ve always been together. That’s why we’re together.
My dad unveiled The Computer in the manner of A Christmas Story (“Say, I think there’s one more present up in the sewing room…”). Logically I know that it happened when I was around 8 or 10, but that computer filled so geeky a hole in my being that the event seemed to travel both forwards and backwards through time to complete me.
It was a Wang 386sx. 25mhz, 125mb hd, and 3.5mb ram running state of the art Win 3.1. Readers who are well-adjusted adults need not understand that previous sentence. The rest of you know exactly what it was all about. Extended Memory. Expanded Memory. TWO kinds of floppy disks. One year my brothers and I saved up to purchase the glory of an 8bit Soundblaster card, allowing our game’s previous blips and bleeps to become orchestral Plibs and Fleeps as god intended.
My parents understood the giant beige box to be a tool for math, communication and shutting up the kids for hours at a time. That’s probably why they never felt the need to upgrade. We had the Wang for nearly four years before moving on to bigger and better, and it had been about 5 years old when we got it. By modern standards, that would be like replacing your work laptop with an etch-a-sketch. The bonus was that I learned to dig deep into that machine and get every last ounce of computing juice squeezed from its circuits. I spent the entirety of my hormone filled adolescence learning about blip bleep bleep blip 10100101101001 1011000101101 1010 1001 011010001 1010101010 blip bleep instead of talking to girls. I’m sorry, I seem to have slipped into binary for a moment there…
To this day I’m happy working from a command line or reading code on the lookout for fresh ways to expand my understanding. My animation desktop is a Linux environment and many a happy hour I’ve typed away just trying to get the damn thing to work. The Spouse introduced me to her Mac when we met and while I see the benefit of sitting down and getting work done on delightful machines with little or no hassle and great ease of use, I can’t help feeling like I’m giving up some level of control. A level of control I may have never needed and may never use, granted, but I feel the loss nonetheless. There is probably a good analogy to democracy in there somewhere.
Despite these reservations, I seem to now own more iDevices than you could shake an iStick at (the newest version of the iStick, that is, generation one isn’t compatible with anything good). At the school where I teach, faculty are discussing if they should encourage parents to buy laptops or iPads for students. My gut reaction, as an animation teacher where the tools are necessary, is that kids still need a keyboard and a mouse. Also, while they’re in there, cram some C/C++ down their throats. (I get all hot under my iCollar when I think about how dumbed down “apps” and devices are, and how the kids will only use them to make farts or email farts or waste time on Fartbook.)
I’m not a Luddite. I just love technology and the understanding of it down to it’s ones and zeros. I’d probably have to fix a lot less relatives’ computers if they felt the same. That said, I’m delighted to watch The Child use an iPad/iPhone flawlessly. I’m slowly teaching her how to use a mouse but its really not taking. The touch screen is so much more intuitive than a mouse and the more I think about it, the more I feel like it may not be necessary for users in the future (soon). I’m lightening up on how I think people should compute. Loads of people are excellent drivers without knowing how a differential axle works (it’s brilliant, I assure you) and I personally don’t need to grasp the intricacies of nuclear power to have it light my house. The wired community has always been divided between people who just want it to work and the subterranean Morlocks who build it byte by byte; both types happy in thier own fantasy. I’m the byte by byte type, and I hope that when I myself become a computer relic I’ll be as fondly remembered as the dear old Wang. Maybe we’ll end up in the same wing of a museum together, both of us making Plibs and Fleeps.
Plibs and Fleeps, that’s a good one, I’m going to post it on Fartbook right now.