Monday, October 17, 2011

How Did the Baby Boomers Get Online in 1958?

I originally wrote this post in May 2009.  I am reminded of it occasionally when I interact with a young man in his 20's at work.  He is unfortunate enough to be in a department whose other occupants are in their 50's.  We've had a number of discussions in his presence recently about "the good old days" - well, the good old days of the 1950's, that is - and technology.  I wonder if he laughs inside at these old ladies.

The latest discussion was triggered by me finding a typewriter in a room near where our department is located.  I wonder if it the last one our company owns.  This lead to a discussion with other baby boomers (in his presence) about manual typewriters, carbon paper, those erasers with a brush on the end we used to erase errors on carbon paper, and the strips of white stuff we used to correct errors on regular paper.  Then, we got on the subject of long distance phone service and how expensive it was. (I think he was a little puzzled  by the concept of "long distance".) 

I got to thinking about my son, who is just slightly younger than this co-worker.  An innocent question he asked a couple of years ago led to this post which I've modified slightly.  Sometimes I think his generation and mine were born on different planets.
Am I the only person in her 50's who feels this way?

So How Did The Baby Boomers Get online in 1958?

First, I am not trying to mock my teenage son. But it shows how, in some ways, the mindset of the present generation is so much different from those of us born only 35 or 40 years earlier.

My son knows about what the computers of the 1950's looked like. People of my generation remember the UNIVAC.  My son has studied it.

Do you remember the famous "hoax" picture of the 1954 RAND prototype of the first home computer? Maybe that was what son was thinking about when he asked his question.

One evening he asked me "how did you get online when you were growing up? Did you have one of those huge computers in your bedroom?" I thought he was pulling my leg.

He wasn't.

Although he intellectually knew there was no "internet" as he knows it back in the 1950's or 1960's, he had to believe that there was something out there that I used, something very clunky, using technology full of vacuum tubes.

He couldn't believe I grew up in an era without home computers. 

Interestingly, son is also very interested in "old technology". For example, he is looking for a good Betamax player (and has several Betamax tapes). He just couldn't make that intellectual leap of "no computer, no Internet".

Let's think about this a minute. I bought my first home computer (a bit later than other people, I admit) in 1996 and went online in January of 1997. So my son was 6 at the time.  That computer connected through a 14,400 baud modem, by the way, and used Mosaic as its browser.  (How dated can you be?)

From his viewpoint, there was a computer in his life "forever".

This leads to another question.  When did the Internet start? The answer is complicated. This link has quite the discussion and the answer is..."it depends".

But no, we didn't have either the Internet or home computers in 1958.  Just typewriters, carbon paper and long distance.


  1. LOL. My kids don't even know what a rotary phone looks like. They don't know the sound of a needle scratching across an LP record. I guess it's all relative - my dad would laugh at the things I didn't understand from his childhood. What will our grandchildren be confused about that we use daily now?

  2. I am laughing and reading this to my husband. We got a kick out of it, being boomerish ourselves. I used to work on a teletype machine. That's how I input forms into the Social Security Admin computers way back in the 70s. It was a very noisy room, especially compared to the hum of my computer.


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