Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs was one of the pioneers who helped usher in the modern personal computing age. As Hollywood turns his life story into an awards-baiting bio-pic, let’s remember back to a time before each of us had a computer in our home (much less in our hand!). Assuming you’re old enough to have grown up without a computer in your household, tells us about the tasks or experiences that used to be much worse or harder before computers came along.
If you’re young enough to have always had computers in your life, describe something that used to be terribly slow or primitive that is now a breeze.
Do you actually miss anything from those days that computers have ruined?
Before someone gets pedantic about it, yes I’m aware that computers existed in some form for decades before I or most of our site’s readers were even born. However, our concern here is with personal home computers that any average individual could have easy access to.
When we were sent this week’s topic, I considered writing about how much easier (and less embarrassing) it is to access adult material (yeah, I’m talking porn), but decided we weren’t running that kind of blog here.
Instead, I’ll comment on how much easier it is to find out about upcoming movies, a topic near and dear to all our hearts. (I’m guessing porn is too, but I digress.) In the old days, a huge chunk of my knowledge about upcoming movies came from a little monthly magazine called Starlog, which not only covered upcoming sci-fi releases, but pretty much anything related to the fantasy and adventure genres (James Bond, Indiana Jones, etc.).
Both the worst and the best part of all this was that you couldn’t find out any more about a movie you were interested in than the article in question provided. It wasn’t quite spoiler-free (I believe Starlog was the first place I read that Spock might be killed off in ‘Star Trek II’), but it was at least spoiler-filtered, meaning that you could go see a major release without having most of the plot ruined for you in advance.
Now, of course, if you look in the right places online (and worse, when you aren’t looking at all), you can find spoilers galore about every aspect of a movie’s production. This has helped weed out the good movies from the bad ones, but it’s also somewhat spoiled the magic of going into the movies with little (if any) knowledge about the story about to unfold.
I’ve been playing guitar for more than 20 years now, but I don’t play like real guitarists. I couldn’t write a song if you put a gun to my head, so I can’t just free-play like many others. Instead, I enjoy playing the songs that I like to hear from bands and guitarists I enjoy listening to. I don’t read music, so tablature is my way of finding out how to play certain songs.
Before the internet and e-commerce came around, it was by brutal acts of chance that I would find a desired songbook for an album. Weekly, I’d stop by my town’s only guitar/music shop (a fantastic little joint named Roll Over Beethoven) and see which new books it had in the racks. Because there didn’t exist a catalog with all of the albums that had been written out into tablature, I never knew if books for the albums I wanted even existed. Relying on chance, it was always hit-or-miss.
Amazon came around and changed things (as did a Barnes & Noble in the area), but the internet killed the need to purchase songbooks. Simply Googling “[song title] tab” will now give you more tab options than you could ever need.
An endless number of things have changed due to the prevalence of computers and the internet, but one area that comes to mind is the consumption of sports. We used to either pass around the local sports page or seek a TV update in order to get scores, usually from the day before. Pulling statistics out of the newspaper (to then basically go nowhere) is a world away from today’s fantasy sports. This is true all the way down to saving newspaper clippings for high school sports. Of course, this helped to create those water cooler moments that are so much more sedate now.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I genuinely can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a computer. Even before I was in Kindergarten, I had a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 in my bedroom. It wasn’t exactly the most practical thing, seeing as how mine didn’t have a printer or even a disk drive. It instead used cartridges like a video game console, and I could save/load stuff via a cassette recorder. Mostly I just typed in long, long programs from binders of sample software. Times sure have changed there.
I don’t think I had a PC with a capable printer until just before graduating high school. I remember clacking away at a typewriter for some assignments in elementary school, and my mother was particular enough that she’d make me re-type entire pages if I made a mistake rather than leaning on white-out. In junior high, we moved up in the world and had a dedicated word processor. It looked like a typewriter but had a little LCD screen that showed a couple lines of text at a time, and I could scroll through it. As inconvenient as that may sound now, it was a godsend 25 years ago. I remember trying to write a screenplay on it about aliens using videogames to turn kids into zombies, but I think I’d just as soon forget that whole thing.
I did finally have a proper PC when I started high school, although my first printer was one of those dot matrix numbers. I’m still tormented by nightmares of fighting to keep the paper perfectly aligned with the sprockets. Otherwise, text would print diagonally down the page and eventually be unreadable. It’s not the most fun thing to suffer through when you’re already pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper you should’ve started weeks earlier.
Although personal computers started to hit the market in a real way when I was a kid in the 1980s, my family was far too poor to afford one. I don’t remember even having a computer class in school until at earliest 7th Grade. Before that, we had typing classes, where I’d rigorously drill typing “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” over and over on an IBM Selectric. At home, we had a manual typewriter with at least one broken key (I believe it was the “e”), but I rarely used that. Until about sophomore year of high school, all of my school papers were written out longhand. What a pain in the ass that was! I still have a callous on my middle finger that never went away.
Through late high school and at least the first year of college, I had a word processor much like Adam describes. It was basically an electric typewriter, but had a small LCD readout that would display one line of text you could review before committing to it by hitting the Return button and watching it print. That was better (at least it gave me an opportunity to hunt for typos), but my life improved exponentially once I finally started using real computers, courtesy of the university’s computer lab, with whatever early version of Microsoft Word was available at the time. That was a true game-changer.
As a writer and editor, I’d like to think that those early experiences instilled some discipline and economy-of-words, but that’s probably just me being arrogant. (Listen to me ramble on about this!) Nevertheless, the gibberish spat out by today’s kids raised with texting and Twitter reads like an alien language to me. I can’t make heads or tails of most of it. I can hardly even fathom what things will be like when my own children hit their formative years.
How did you ever live without a computer? Or did you? Tell us your experiences in the Comments.