Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Computers - #AtoZChallenge

I originally wrote this post in May 2009 and repeated it in October of 2011.

Many people I know can not remember a time without computers.  Even me, and I'm in my 60's. But, in my youth, I saw computers only during the reporting of national elections (it was a big deal), but there were also the mysterious "do not bend, spindle or mutilate" punch cards that were enclosed with our phone bills.

Computers were huge, incredibly expensive, and owned only by universities, the military, and corporations, as far as I know.  Unlike, say, typewriters.  Remember them?

There is still a typewriter (another moment of nostalgia, shall we?) in a room near where our department at work is located.  I wonder if it is the last one the company I work for owns.  Back in 2011, finding it lead to a discussion with other baby boomers (in the presence of a co-worker in his 20's) about manual typewriters, carbon paper, those erasers with a brush on the end we used to erase errors on carbon paper, and Liquid Paper (which still exists).  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 former co-worker.  An innocent question my son asked in his teens led to this post, which I've modified slightly.  Sometimes I think his generation and mine were born on different planets.

I remember other computer things, too: mainframe computers, keypunch machines (I used them in college, imagine that!), writing simple programs (I took a semester of both Fortran and Cobol, didn't pursue programming, but I enjoyed what I did do in college courses), monitors with a green and white screen.  I was even on CompuServe for a while in the late 90's.  Strangely, I never participated in the pre-Internet online world, and sometimes I wonder why.

Who ever would have thought....

Now, my post from 2009:

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 kidding me.

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 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 late 1996 and went online in January of 1997. So my son was in kindergarten at the time.  That computer connected through a 14,400 baud modem,  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.
Join me each day (except Sundays) this month, when my theme is "traveling through time and space."


  1. Enjoyed this post. This is a topic we should all blog about (if we're in the second half of life that is!) We bought our first pc when my daughter went to college. It was an AT home computer with a huge hard drive of 40 Gig! Build a Better Blog

  2. My child is the exact same level of disbelief - what?? no apps?? no games?? how did you survive this level of hardship? :)


  3. Typewriters and mimeo machines. Remember those? I bought my first computer in 1987 when I went to grad school. I have often wondered how smart I would be if I had a computer when I was young and had information at my fingertips. And now I can just ask Alexa.

  4. I am typing this comment on my iPad. A device that sits easily in my hands but that has more power, more memory, than the computer that went with Armstrong to the moon. I find that amazing.

  5. Yes, it's really hard for our kids to believe that we lived in a time when there were no home computers and internet. For them, it's unthinkable to live in a world without social media or Google!
    Though, we are now dependent on technology but we have had our share of fun and life was great for us even without all these gadgets.

  6. I remember when my husband bought a word processor and I thought it was a complete waste of money because he had an electric typewriter so why did he need this machine too? I also remember when our work got a new computer with a mouse and how we were all amazed at how fiddly it was to move around!
    This was just perfect - I actually work with a woman (who is the wife of a surgeon and has the perfect life - on the surface) who's obituary could start with the exact words you used in your honest eulogy opening para - how completely sad is that? I believe we all create our own stories and I'm with you on wanting to leave a story behind that is full of smiles and kindness and I want my children to have no trouble at all with coming up with something nice to say about me. Great post x
    Leanne | cresting the hill

  7. I know that there were always computers in my world, even though, when I was a kid, they really were not part of my life at all. When I was in college, I took a computer class and we did the BASIC language. I did not like computers because you had to write the program very exactly. There was no room for error. My personality and brain don't thrive with that level of precision. When I was in journalism school, in the early 1980s, we used computers to input our articles and we had, I think, an intranet sort of thing. We saved the articles to... I forget where... and the editors could read and edit the story on the computer.

  8. When I teach college students about communication, I always include a section on the history of the Internet and computers. It always blows their little minds.

    @dSavannahCreate from
    (not writing for #AtoZ this year)

  9. I am so dependent on the internet I wonder how I lived without it too. And on another (similar) note, my college aged son had bought a record player and records.

  10. That's like when a student asked me if I hid my cell phone from my high school teachers. She didn't get that no one had a cell phone in the late '80s.

  11. I, too, have sons just at the end of their teens, who have never known a world without the internet. I think the thing we could least have foreseen was the end of television as we knew it. In our house, the TV is completely an unused relic, though we may be ahead of the curve (all "TV" is watched on computers here). Most people now have giant TVs (would today's kids be able to believe the 10" black and white we had when I was growing up?), and a million cable channels, but I wonder how long before that all gives way to the internet?
    Rebecca at The Ninja Librarian

  12. I remember in the early 90s there was so much hype when the bank I worked in got computerised. The things we take for granted these days, left us open mouthed in days past.

  13. we had computers in school, my son probably wont know a conventional desktop untill he goes to a school!
    Twinkling Tina Cooks
    Tina Basu

  14. This was so much fun to read! ☺ I remember everything you mentioned and used computers at the office pre-internet. I think the system when I left in 1992 was MS DOS. After that, I was completely disdainful about having a home computer until my father forced the issue by giving me a laptop for Christmas in 2008. Yup - I held out that long. Now, there's no getting me off it. ☺


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