Can you imagine letting a 25th anniversary slide by unnoticed? I almost did that yesterday, but something tickled a neuron before the clock struck twelve. This event I remembered was a milestone, marking the beginning of what has become a remarkable lifestyle change for our whole family.
To put things in perspective, travel back in time with me to the evening of October 31, 1982. Immediately after supper, my husband took our older son out trick-or-treating. They only went one place, and acquiring the treat required a credit card imprint before they returned home with the loot: a single apple. This wasn’t just any old apple, it was an Apple ][+ computer, with dual external floppy disk drives, and an extra 24 K of memory. That’s right. That machine ran with a whopping 48 kilobytes of memory!
The main purpose of the purchase was to allow our son to scratch his itch to learn programming languages — he’d already mastered machine language so he could create new games for his Atari. He quickly became fluent in three languages and never lacked for odd programming jobs to supply extra cash during his college years before he began a rewarding career in chip design.
Everyone in the family enjoyed the Apple in one way or another, but to me, it was a dream-come-true. I’d long lusted for one of those magic word processing machines, but never mentioned the fact, because no way could I justify spending the equivalent of a semester's college tuition on such an indulgence. When I saw the Apple, I knew my prayers had been answered. By noon the next day I had become an expert in using AppleWriter, and transcended for all time the limitations of my trusty old Smith Corona portable electric.
Today we’d howl with laughter at the sight of that primitive old 13" green-on-black CRT monitor that showed programming codes right along with the text, sprawling uniformly from one screen edge to the other. Acres of trees and miles of printer ribbon substituted for the as-yet-unimagined WYSIWYG display. Any function change, like bold, italic or margin adjustments, had to be entered as a “dot code,” similar to HTML coding, within the text itself. It was invisible in the printed document, but did affect line length, creating some wildly ragged right margins. But oh, the power, to be able to cut and paste, and edit documents without retyping. Sheer magic!
It’s been a long road from there to the ability to lay out press-ready books to the most exacting professional standards, mixing graphics and text, right on my own computer. My personal computer today has more power than a Super Computer did back then.
Then there is the Internet, connecting me with all of you, and the world at large. There is the change in my time use. Many things I used to enjoy have sat idle for months or more.
Yes, yesterday marked an anniversary of something truly momentous, and I can no more guess what additional changes computers are going to make in my life over the next twenty-five years than I could have predicted today’s scenario back in 1982.
A couple of years ago I began a chronicle of my experience with computers over this quarter century. Maybe it's time to pull it out and add a few more.
Write now: About your early experiences with computers. What was your first? Your favorite? What programs have you loved and hated? Did you ever have system failure? How did you learn? What are your feelings about computers, and how have they changed over the years? How has the availability of a computer affected your writing?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal