I was thinking recently about how I got to where I am, and how my relationship with computers have changed over the years. I wanted to take a moment and reflect on my first experiences with computers, as well as my memories of work
My first experiences with computers happened in elementary school in 4th grade. We had a room full of the old olive green Apple IIE computers. I remember learning AppleWorks (this is where I first learned how to perform arithmetic on cells in a spreadsheet). I remember making the turtle move in Logo, and creating cheesy greeting cards in the Print Shop. 5th grade was exciting, because the converted the back row of computers into Apple Macintosh computers. Every week, the teacher would rotate a different group of students to the back row. I remember greatly looking forward to the week that I would get to use the new Macintosh computers. I remember the joy of drawing in MacPaint, and being fascinated by the mouse-driven GUI of these computers.
In middle school, we had the option to take elective courses every marking period on a variety of topics. I took one simply called “Computers,” where we were given free time in the computer lab for a half-hour every day. While my classmates were busy playing Doom and Oregon Trail, I was busy creating stacks of cards in HyperStudio. My goal that marking period was to create a working model of my house. Each card consisted of a different room, with links to adjoining rooms. The stack was full of crude hand-drawn bitmaps of the furniture in the house, sound effects (which I clumsily recorded with my handheld tape recorder, then played back into the computer’s microphone), and cheesy animations of lights and appliances turning on. Sadly, the file got corrupt at one point while I was saving it to disk (we had to keep everything on 3.5′ floppies), and I never got to finish it. But the seed was planted at this point. I was meant to build things with computers.
While we had no computer at home (my parents are not techies in any way), a good friend of mine was getting a new computer, and was willing to sell me his old one for $400 bucks. I convinced my parents to buy it, and soon I was the proud owner of a Packard Bell 486 25Mhz computer with 16K of RAM, a 40 MB hard drive, and running Windows 3.1. My favorite thing to do on this computer was explore. I wanted to know what every button and menu of every program on the computer did. I remember learning MS-DOS commands, and writing batch files to automate things. It wasn’t long until I decided to take the computer apart, and began to upgrade the hardware, doubling both the memory and the HDD storage.
After a failed attempt to upgrade to Windows 95, I decided that it was time to upgrade. My younger brother (who also shares my passion for tech) and I saved up our money, and over time, purchased all of the components we needed to build a new PC. Still too young to use credit cards, I recall giving my parents the cash they saved up, and ordering parts on line. I remember the excitement of the UPS truck rolling up to the house with whatever component was to arrive next. Our first machine was kind of a flop. It was never really stable, and after several reformats and fresh OS installs, we gave up on it.
Around this time, I was getting ready to go away to college, so I built another computer for myself. Learning from my previous mistakes, this computer was much more stable, and served me well for at least two years, before I eventually built another one with better specs. Also, my interests and priorities shifted in college, and I spent my time focusing on my music education degree. My interest and passion for computers and tech fell into the background, and the computer just became a tool for whatever task I was trying to do. I gave up on building computers, and started purchasing pre-built ones, as I just wanted something that would get the job done. This continued through adulthood, as I focused on my career and family.
Despite this, working with computers was still a passion. Though they were just a tool, they were a tool that I loved to use, customize, tinker with, etc. I wove my love tech into every aspect of my teaching career, creating websites for classes and organizations in my charge, managing students, instruments, and music libraries with MS Excel (and later MS Access), and automating any aspect of my job that I could.
Of course, the story doesn’t end here, but will continue in a future blog post. I am interested to hear from you. What was your upbringing with computers and technology like? Does anyone have similar memories of early tech?