Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | June 26, 2009

Reach out and poke someone

For those of you under 30, this post just might not be for you. You lot have always known what a fax machine was, and unless you grew up with a Mac, your computer always came with the Microsoft Windows operating system. Opening and closing virtual windows on your computer comes as natural to you as opening and closing real windows comes to us.

When I was in elementary school, taking home one of the coveted school computers from the library meant bringing home a keyboard of sorts (of which I have little to no recollection), a small black and white television for use as a monitor, and what I can only assume was a modem that would allow me to connect to the local network. Picking up the phone receiver (which was, of course, not cordless – this was the 70s, after all, when the only portable phone we knew of could be found in the car of Jennifer and Jonathan Hart), I’d dial the requisite number, wait for the appropriate series of tones to sound, and then place the receiver in the modem. I’d log on to the network (my chosen ID was “ringo”, reflecting my early love of The Beatles), and using the limited tools at my disposal, exchange crudely formatted (but quite well-written, of course 😉 ) messages to others on the network – other local students who’d also managed to score a computer for the weekend.

Remember these?

Remember these?

I played games like “Eliza” and “Dungeons and Dragons“, and used my proudly acquired – though clearly inadequate – knowledge of BASIC to create simple programs. We all learned BASIC in school, and the geeks kids who were evidently more clever than I were testing the waters with programming languages like Fortran and COBOL. There were no graphics. There were no colors. To be honest, there wasn’t much of anything.

Computers were not central to my life while growing up. Indeed, they were barely of any interest to me at all. In university, I was the proud owner of a Brother word processor (two, actually, after the first one was stolen during a break-in), and the less than proud owner of a failing grade in my first university-level computer course. I passed it with flying colors the second time around with a different teacher, so I hope you’ll indulge me and allow me to blame my earlier failure on what was so obviously an instructional glitch.

Somewhere along the way, though, something changed. At some point, I unwittingly discovered – and embraced – my inner geek. Days spent sitting in front of the computer began to get the better of me, and I found myself becoming curious – intrigued, even. With the advent of the internet, I was utterly smitten. I was amazed by the capabilities, by the virtual doors it opened. Think about it! Think about what you can do! If you’re persistent, you can find information about anything. Or anyone… You can make purchases, you can make travel plans. And when you make those plans, you can even get your bearings long before you arrive, thanks to programs like Google Earth. You can see the sights without leaving home, or take a tour of your hotel while wearing your pajamas (or while not wearing them, though if that’s the case, I may or may not want to know…). You can find old friends and make new ones; you can find songs (or they can find you…).

Longing to poke that special someone? Got an irresistible urge to throw a sheep at your high school crush? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you should be on Facebook, of course, the website that lets you do almost anything to your friends and loved ones. Start a snowball fight or a food fight with your mates (or with your favorite blogger, but remember that she plays dirty), fling office supplies at your colleagues (because face it – they’re all on Facebook too). Challenge me to a word game, though I should warn you – I can be very, very competitive.

And how about those gadgets you keep around the house? You know, the ones you can use with your computer? iPhones and cameras and scanners, oh my! Seriously, could you have imagined 10 or 15 years ago being able to use your cell phone to access your email? How incredible is it that I can connect my camera to my computer and send you a photo via email, which you can receive on your cell phone anywhere in the world – within seconds? Not that I’m going to, of course, so don’t be getting your hopes up. Requests, however, may be considered (get your mind out of the gutter! You know who you are…)…

Less than 20 years ago, I was amazed by the act of being able to send a piece of paper through my phone and have that content come out on someone else’s phone somewhere else in the world. Today, my five year-old son begs me to allow him to watch VOD, and I’m quite certain that he already knows more about it than I ever will. My father just got his first mp3 player. He’s waiting for me to arrive and assist him with the mindboggling task of filling up this credit card-sized gadget with nearly 1000 songs and old radio show recordings. The player was a Father’s Day gift from my mother, and the process of getting it loaded up is a Father’s Day gift from me. It will undoubtedly be a time-consuming technological labor of love, and as I compile a list of suitable download sites, I think to myself, what a wonderful world…

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  1. You have to love how amazing it’s become. my son gives me whole movies on a flashdrive the size of half a finger…30 years ago you had 3 huge reels to change manually and thread through a projector.
    i think we’re more blessed than we know.
    Beautifully written as usual, Liza. Arrrr

  2. Leonel: I’m so glad you liked it!

    I’d bet that our parents’ generation sees the “blessing” as a curse; it’s too hard for them to keep up. Sure, my father now has an mp3 player, but I’d be willing to bet that he won’t put anything on it, and is waiting for me to do it for him later this week. And, even though he uses the internet, I’m not sure how comfortable he is with it – certainly not as comfortable as we are. He also has a cell phone (which we made him get) that does nothing but make and receive phone calls – he didn’t want any more than that.

    Oh, and either you’ve got a really small flash drive, or you’ve got really long fingers… 😉

  3. This blog is a well-written slice of history joining our past to our present.

    Well done Liza. I loved reading it!

  4. Simone: Thanks so much for the compliments, m’dear! Glad you liked it! The idea for the post came from Leonel (the first commenter), and while I initially didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, I’m actually rather pleased by the way it turned out. As I told Leonel, I had an epiphany, and the words just came! 🙂

  5. great post! Yes, we had a similar intro to computers. I was always more interested in bringing the pet rat from science class home, though. Never brought the computers… don’t even think it was an option!

    NEED to find that letter you sent me in 93 or 94 where you were SOOO overly excited about being able to choose different fonts! :-D. We’ve come a long way, baby!

  6. nrg: You definitely have to find that letter – I want to see it!

    I seem to remember bringing baby chicks home for the weekend – one may have even died on us. Such fond memories…

    And of course, I’m glad you liked the post…

  7. What are you talking about? we did have colour. You could display the font in BASIC in either white OR blue. Now that was cool.

    Apparently it’s the 30th anniversary of the Sony walkman this week, and various news outlets have ran stories on it – I liked the BBC’s.

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