I have a new computer, as of last week, an “Eee,” a netbook that is light and compact. Much smaller than a notebook computer, it has all the functionality of most notebooks for usual office work. It does not have CD or DVD drives, and the keyboard is slightly smaller, making it a bit awkward, but I’ll get used to it (the right shift is a bit of a stretch too).
This computer will accompany me to Italy. It’s got me thinking a bit about how lucky I am to be living in the generation that has experienced the technological change to its fullest. I remember when black and white TV was the norm, and TV Guide would put a little “C” for “Color” by those shows in color. In fact, it wasn’t until I was eight years old that we even had a color TV, and I still recall being called down to the TV room (which later became my bedroom after my second sister was born) to be shown this “gift from Grandma,” with the cartoon “The Lone Ranger” was playing (it was a Saturday morning – cartoon time! — when I first saw our new Magnavox color TV)!
My Grandma, whose color TV we’d enjoyed since I was five whenever we visited her in Mankato, Minnesota, also had something new and innovative. It was called “cable TV” and Mankato was one of the first places to get it (it hit rural areas first to expand available programming). We got ours in Sioux Falls when I was 14 and WOW! I could watch Denver news (KOA), or “Metromedia 11” from Minneapolis. So cool. We got 11 stations! A year later we were visiting some friends of my parents in Mankato, who were rich (they owned the ‘Hurdy Gurdy Saloon’). The son, about my age, showed me this cool new gadnet his dad had bought. It cost $1300 and was called a “betamax.” It could tape from the TV, even the picture! WOW! I had taped old Star Trek and MASH episodes with a cassette tape player, but had always fantasized about a tape recorder even able to tape the picture. So cool. Someday, I thought, I’ll be rich enough to get something like that!
Then I hit college, and bought my first real stereo system. A Kenwood, with a cassette tape player. In my junior year I visited the stereo shop (“Sight and Sound,” in Sioux Falls, SD) and the owner was excited as he showed me this article about a new technology. It seems the Japanese could turn sound into a digital code, and use lasers to place it on some sort of disk. A laser could read the disk and *gasp* perfectly reproduce the sound every time! No more having to painstakingly clean each LP before brushing off the diamond needle of the cartridge, and weighting it properly to avoid ware and tear on the record album. Of course, this was 1981, and it would probably be decades before the technology was available to everyone…so we thought. Within five years, the LP was basically replaced by the CD.
Also around 1980, my college roommate brought something really cool to campus. It was a Tandy personal computer he’d bought at Radio Shack. It could be hooked up to a printer, and you could even play some games on it. There were no operating systems like Windows; you had to enter the codes yourself. And to save something you had to record it to a cassette player. He ultimately took it home because everytime he turned it on it caused the TVs on the dorm floor to go crazy.
My dad had worked at a computer place since the 60s, and I was used to going to his office and seeing the big computers with large tape reels, key punch machines and stakes of data cards with code to be fed to the computer, and bright raised buttons that had lights. The computer room was huge and impressive. But by the 80s that was becoming obsolete and the power of those tall impressive machines were getting put into small “personal computers.”
Also around then a new TV station was on cable — MTV. So cool, music videos! I had always had music videos in my head while listening to songs, and while sometimes the real video was disappointing, it was great to be able to watch the music. And the best videos in my opinion were those early 80s MTV efforts, pioneering the art.
By 1985 I had bought my first PC, a Commodore 64, which I still keep in storage, thinking it might have value as an antique someday. My first word processing program was “Paper clip,” and I hooked that computer up to an old black and white TV for a screen. In 1985 I also got my first CD player, and started buying CDs of my favorite old LPs. But at least CDs would last as the major storage device for music, right? I mean, it’s not like they’d ever develop some tiny pod that could carry a mix of music you could change on demand or anything like that!
Then when going to Germany to do research in 1989 I found out that a local store had Olivetti personal computers on sale for $499. A weird green and black screen (hard to read), no hard drive (everything had to be saved to disk, and the program had to be active), but I could use Wordperfect (the original version) and travel with it. Wow. Two years later I’d have a Zeos to take to Germany, a 286 processor, a better screen (blue and white) and a hard drive to store programs. Also back in 1989 I heard of this new thing called “bitnet.” Apparently you could send messages from Europe to the US by writing it on a computer and sending it electronically — and instanteanously! By 1991 this had become e-mail, and us grad students at the University of Minnesota were given “e-mail addresses” (my original was firstname.lastname@example.org)
I then discovered newsgroups for political and philosophical debate, and something interesting called the “world wide web.” Daunting and a bit boring at first, it soon started to have information and pages that were interesting. By the time I’d moved on to work here in Farmington, I bought an early version of Frontpage and started by own website. I also had a new computer, with a super fast Pentium 100, and a good modem. What could be better for getting online?
In 1999 when war broke out in Kosovo, something I strongly opposed, I started posting my daily thoughts about the war. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating my first blog — ten years ago. You can find those entries here.
The last ten year of course have brought even more changes WiFi, Facebook, blogs, and a world so much different than that of my childhood. I think back on m dad’s office and their old, gigantic computers, and realize that my Eee is probably more powerful than their room of computers back then. I remember buying 45’s as a very young kid (my first was “Wedding Bell Blues” by 5th Dimension — but I have a vast library of 45s from 1969 – 71, when I was 9 to 11, buying them at Lewis Drugs in Sioux Falls with my allowance money). I remember cartoons only Saturday morning, news at 5:30 CST every day, and communication only through phone and mail (and long distance calls were expensive — 97 cents a minute to call Grandma.)
Putting aside the political, social, economic and cultural implications of all these changes, it’s really been fun and amazing to live through them. I’m glad I remember black and white TV, rotary phones (I was very upset when we got push button phones because we had to change our number from 338-6273 to 336-1309…I didn’t want to lose our phone number!), and turntable based stereo systems. My dad’s car had 8-track tapes, and I would go to his office in high school to use his secretary’s IBM selectric typewriter because it could erase earlier strokes.
And now I have my Eee, a tiny powerful little computer, and am ready to head to Italy and do some international blogging! Ciao!