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When I Was Your Age: Looking Back at the Technology of the Future

April 27, 2010

The first time I used a computer was at 6 years old. It was 1986 and I was introduced to my dad’s Apple IIe. It had some games on it, the most addictive for me being Lode Runner, which I played for hours. It also had Print Shop Pro on it, and my dad had a dot matrix printer, so there was much cheesy fold-up greeting card and banner printing going on.

Then, after about 2 years of playing with the old Apple IIe, in 1988 my mom bought a computer for our house. It was an AMSTRAD, it was from JC Penney, and it died almost immediately upon start up. So then we got a Packard Bell 386, unremarkable except it came with a 2400 baud internal modem — and a subscription to the Prodigy online service. Of course, equipped with a modem I didn’t have to limit myself to paid online services; I made friends on Prodigy and those friends ran BBSes. I spent hours on both, and this was back when online services charged by the minute. The only operating system I used was DOS, graphical user interfaces hadn’t even appeared on my radar. In fact, when I was first introduced to Windows 3.1, I refused to use it. I was a hardcore command line diva, and in some ways I still am, which explains my affinity for Linux.

Eventually I gave in to Windows, got CompuServe and America Online, and upgraded to a 14.4 modem. I started using the Web as soon as it became available, in 1991 or so. I remember the days when web pages were plain text, when flashing rainbow line separators were cool, and animated Under Construction logos were pervasive. I learned basic HTML at an early age and established my homestead on this wild wild web, which I’ve been defending — in some form — ever since.

So here I am, a tech early adopter, and I remember when I used to dream of all the really amazing futuristic crap that was coming on down the pipeline. Now many of my dreams have come true, and I get really nerdy about them whenever they’re realized. Here’s a few recent technology developments that had me all giddy inside:

The iPhone. The fact that I can browse the web, send e-mail, take pictures and use amazing apps all on a little screen way away from any wires or cords, is one of my dreams realized. I can watch YouTube at the beach. I can send e-mail from Old Navy. I can look at my website stats at the Olive Garden. You get the point. Back in the day, this seemed like magic, some far-off wizardry featured in sci-fi flicks. These kids today, they take it for granted. But when I was your age…

Netflix on my XBOX. When I realized I could put movies in my instant queue online and then watch them, again, streamed wirelessly to my TV, I broke out into a huge grin. These are the things they talked about in old shows like Beyond Tomorrow.

A microwave that senses what you’re cooking. This seems kind of boring, but it really did amaze me when I got this microwave. I mean, how “kitchen of the future” is that? Remember when they told us our appliances would figure out what we wanted to do without us having to punch it in? Well, there you go. My microwave knows I’m trying to cook baked potatoes and not reheating a roast. I’m sorry, but I find that really cool.

Touch screen tablet computers. I remember watching the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation carry around those little tablets with a computer screen on them, passing them around instead of papers. I couldn’t wait until that became an actuality. And now we have TabletPC, the iPad, etc. I don’t yet own a touch screen tablet, but I sure wouldn’t mind if I somehow got lucky enough to own one.

Electronic book readers. Okay, this is really cool. Multiple books in one package, and it’s not the Reader’s Digest condensed editions of Moby Dick and War and Peace. You could conceivably carry your entire library in your purse. I never thought I’d get to see that kind of thing in my lifetime. This was stuff from the 23rd century back when I was a kid.

iPod. Yes, it’s been like a decade since portable music players came out, but they’re still really amazing when viewed through my 8 year old eyes. No more CD racks, towers, and books. Just plug your music player into the car, or the stereo, or set it in the dock of your bougie Bose Wave player and boom, your whole music collection is right there ready to be played. Bam.

There’s obviously more sophisticated tech advances that are cooler than these, but these are things I use everyday and when I think back at how I viewed them as a kid, I still get that giddy “Windows 95 is coming out” feeling. Uh oh, my nerdage is showing.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Lampdevil permalink
    April 27, 2010 9:11 am

    Nerdage? Oh hey! Nerdage! I like nerdage. And I can totally empathize with the sort of stuff that you feel. Sometimes I have to sit back and boggle. The Nintendo DS I carry in my purse is way more powerful than my old NES when I was 6! AND IT’S IN MY PURSE. And USB thumb drives! Holy crap! I’ve got a little one on my keychain that holds 4 GIGABYTES. That’s the size of the ENTIRE HARD DRIVE of my first computer from 1997! And it’s durable! Not like those fragile easily-damaged 1.4 meg floppies that I’d carry around to do schoolwork on!

    IT’S THE FUTURE. The future is awesome.

  2. araymondjohnson permalink
    April 27, 2010 10:50 am

    I love this post, because one of my favorite things to exclaim while geeking out over a new piece of technology is “we live in the future!!!” I say it a lot. I’ve also named my iphone “Husband”.

  3. April 27, 2010 11:41 am

    Move over, Shatner and Gore, the real early adopter has staked her freaking claim! Man, and if these kids only knew we did it all with steam powered engine and patience!

  4. April 27, 2010 12:01 pm

    I had to pedal a bike to power my computer!

    Ray: I seriously exclaim things like that. “OMG It’s like the future!” and “Dude this is some future shit” and such.

  5. April 27, 2010 12:04 pm

    I have some very fond writing memories of Windows 3.1, namely having to duct tape the computer cord to the outlet because AutoSave did not exist. It only took about ten times of losing precious prose to learn that lesson.

    Ahhh good times, great oldies.

  6. evmaroon permalink
    April 27, 2010 12:31 pm

    We have a very similar introduction to computers! Except mine also included an add-on to the Intellivision gaming console and Miner 2049er, played on the Apple IIe. And oh how I loved Lode Runner! I loved making custom levels that would trap him, because damn it, I needed a way to vent my frustrations at being in 8th grade.

    I also have seen the iPad and iPhone as our answer to Roddenberry’s vision. But now that we have them, we have to come up with new ideas about the future of interfaces. Leave it to Steve Jobs to take away a science fiction writer’s depiction of technology!

  7. April 27, 2010 2:24 pm

    My first computer was the Digi-Comp (follow the link, I couldn’t put a picture here but it’s a blast). It rocked 3 whole bits of processing muscle.

    In 1983 I bought my first “real” computer, a 28 pound “luggable” that came with dual floppies and a 9″ screen. It booted either CP/M or a non-MS version of DOS. I think this is where I learned my lesson to never be on the bleeding edge of any new technology. I love my technology but I’d rather let someone else pay for the privilege of shaking out the bugs and the standards, thank you.

  8. Heather Flescher permalink
    April 27, 2010 8:43 pm

    Oh, the days of the Apple IIe, dot matrix printers, monochrome monitors, 64K RAM, 5 1/4″ floppies, programming in BASIC…
    My favorite games were Spy Hunter and Karateka. And lots of Infocom text adventure stuff. Thanks for bringing back some good memories!

  9. April 28, 2010 1:09 am

    @Lampdevil you know what I’m talking about! It’s the truth.

    @Heather nice to see you here!

  10. April 28, 2010 9:52 am

    Oh, the days of the Apple IIe, dot matrix printers, monochrome monitors, 64K RAM, 5 1/4″ floppies, programming in BASIC…
    My favorite games were Spy Hunter and Karateka. And lots of Infocom text adventure stuff. Thanks for bringing back some good memories!

    HAHAH. That was so awesome, Heather.

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