Since I’m a middle-aged non traditional student, I’d like to chronologically offer my personal history with computers and the Internet. And I’ll start from the beginning.
I graduated from high school in 1981. At that time, personal computers were virtually non-existent. I was fascinated by the “personal computers” at Radio Shack. They were complicated, expensive, difficult to learn and definitely not user-friendly. They used the BASIC computer language and were considered to be the tools and toys of only the geekiest of the geeks, way before it was cool to be a “geek”. During my college years at Ohio State (1981-86), I lived in a professional/social fraternity for “engineers, architects and scientists” where I had exposure to other students pursuing a technical career. For my first three years, nobody had a personal computer, although the future and importance of computer technology was recognized and embraced. I took just one computer programming class. It taught the archaic FORTRAN language. The class involved no actual contact with a computer. It simply taught the basics of the language. The CIS (Computer and Information Sciences) majors all carried around heavy boxes filled with punch cards that were used to store data from their classes (this was before the advent of the floppy disk). Other than those who majored in computer technology, actual computer use was unusual at that time. In my final year at OSU, our fraternity purchased a computer that was hooked into the OSU system. It was difficult to learn how to use it. There was only text, usually green text on a black background. There were no photos, animation or pictures and the graphics were only created with text characters. In 1985, I bought a Commodore-64 computer and some books on programming, where I learned the BASIC language. I used it for some practical things (e.g. creating quizzes to study bits of information that needed to be memorized), but it was mostly a source of intrigue and amusement. The Commodore-64 was so named because it held 64 KILOBYTES of info. Data was stored on a cassette tape, which took forever to upload and download.
My next computer, and first experience with the Internet came in 1997 when I bought a Compaq Presario, one of the first modern computers under $1000. I bought it at Radio Shack because that was the only place where personal computers could be purchased locally. It had a 2 MEGABYTE hard drive (about the size of one mp3 song) I signed up for Internet service with a local company. Connecting to the Internet took some time with the buzzes and beeps of a phone modem connection. I was delighted with my new window to the world and was instantly hooked. I learned the ropes of the Internet mostly by personal exploration. I was thrilled one night when I played a game of online euchre (through Yahoo games) with three other players… from Canada, Australia and South Africa (4 countries, 3 continents!). We chatted as much as we played. It was at that moment that I realized the social power of the Internet! I was among the first in my circle of friends to have the Internet, and they asked me lots of questions. I started to get calls from my ISP about exceeding my daily 3-HOUR allotment of online time, and complaints from others that my phone was always busy, and I felt a bit guilty. So I got a second phone line dedicated to the Internet. Although the Internet was in its infancy, I found information about just about anything online, and I was often online and watching TV at the same time. My young daughters were both fascinated by the technology and I was eager to show them. As my kids grew older, we wrangled over computer time. We moved to a new home in 2005. At that time, I ditched the second phone line and got a cable modem, a move that proved to be less expensive and provided a much faster connection. I installed a wireless home network and gave my kids (now in 6th and 9th grades) one of my older computers, which I placed in a spare common room. We could now all be online at the same time. By this time, they had both learned how to use a computer adeptly and how to communicate with their friends through the computer. As my kids continued to grow, they used the Internet (and cell phones… but that’s another topic) more and more. Schools now recognize Internet research as a valid form of research (another separate topic upon which I have opinions), and social networking, like Facebook, is part of mainstream culture. Today, my youngest daughter is about to enter her senior year of high school, and the Internet is simply a necessary and accepted part of society. The Internet and computer technology is still in its infancy. I am excited about the future of technology’s role in society and I look forward to being a part of it. I don’t think that we are too far away from artificial intelligence and computer generated “friends” to keep us company. So, I am mildly concerned that technology is now advancing too quickly for our traditional values to keep up… something that the younger people may want to consider as well.
We were asked to contact someone over 50. Heck, a bunch of my friends are over 50, and they’d probably give a similar perspective… so I’ll go a step further. Last quarter, I interviewed my lively neighbor Dorothy about her preferred methods of communication. Dorothy’s picture should be in the dictionary next to the definition of “sweet little old lady”. She proudly shares that she will turn 90 on her next birthday. She still tends to her garden and cooks meals for her visiting family. Dorothy knows ABOUT the Internet, but seems to view it as a faraway land that she doesn’t wish to visit. She has never owned or operated a computer and has no problem with that. She loves the radio, the preferred form of communication during her childhood and young adulthood. She has only one television, a wood-encased console TV that was probably made in the early 1970s. Her TV has never been on at a time when I visited her in her home. During our interview, she once gestured toward it and derogatively referred to it as “that thing”. In her autumn years, Dorothy is clearly a happy woman, eager to tell stories about her childhood and her family. Neither the Internet, nor television has any direct bearing on her life.
Yes, there is a generational divide, but it is also gradational. Like Dorothy, most of the senior generation has little or no involvement with the Internet. Many are happily content with that. Others seniors may curse the changes. I prefer the word “evolutionary” rather than “pervasive’. We will continue to lose seniors. Young people will grow older, and babies will grow into a society where the Internet is the norm. The Internet will continue to evolve… both reflecting and shaping our society. It’s exciting… but it’s like a rough ride on the back of a charging race horse. Let’s hope our principles keep up and we don’t fall off!
Chronology Of Personal Computers:
Brief History Of The Internet: