“Never say ‘never’… karma has a wicked sense of humor.” —Experience
My first close encounter with a computer just months into the 80s occurred when we took delivery of our first one at the East Texas Light in Center, Texas, where it was set up in the bookkeeper’s office.
Computers of a sort were already used for typesetting, although primitive by today’s standards. Imagine tall boxy devices the size of a refrigerator beeping and humming at the command of multiple yards of perforated paper tapes generated by reporters on typewriter-style machines in the news room—a far cry from the new one in bookkeeping around which everyone huddled that day. Typically found in banks and big businesses, the newspaper now had a modern computer—one with a glowing black-and-green TV tube monitor, noisily generating reams of green-and-white paper.
Whereas children born today come with a plethora of knowledge pre-installed for intuitively knowing how to operate complex computing devices, I couldn’t spell ‘computer’ until my junior year of college. Remembering my only course in ‘computer science’ at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas, involved thick stacks of punch cards created during many late nights in the computer center used to produce reams of that same green-and-white paper (most of mine with error messages attached), my reaction to the new computer was quick. “I’ll never need to know how to work a computer, just bring me the print outs.”
Karma was swift and sure. The first computer in my house came no more than a year later—an Apple IIe in about 1983. It was soon replaced with a first-generation McIntosh introduced the next year that came with two floppies required to operate it. One, a system disk and the other a data disk—cutting edge technology at 128k from a device that weighed 12-15 pounds.
So, here I was last week, some 35 years following my profound proclamation, attempting rationalization to a somewhat understanding friend how (and why) I possess six functioning devices, any one of which has mega times the capacity and power of the first one I owned. Never mind that the one called iPhone is small enough to fit in a pocket, or become easily lost under or behind something when the ringer is turned off.
Supplementing this collection of working wonders are three Mac desktops that preceded the current workhorse, a five-year old MacBook Pro. My Mac museum includes a PowerMac G5 currently living on a desk just in case it’s ever needed, in the same spot in which it’s collected dust since the MacBook Pro was first powered up. Stored in their original boxes are a PowerMac G4 and a first-generation iMac G3. It’s two-tone silver and gray. I just couldn’t take the plunge for one of the bright candy-colored configurations in which the revolutionary tear-drop shaped computers daringly debuted in the early 90s.
Rounding out the current collection of computing devices are:
- A first-generation iPad that still performs perfectly, at the ready for me to read Kindle books, or to provide chords and lyrics for my embattled endeavors to master the guitar.
- Two iPad minis. Why two? That’s an interesting story for another time.
- An Asus Android 7″ tablet that I own only because it was part of a promotion with my last phone contract renewal. Used to be my Kindle reader before I discovered the app existed for the iPad.
- Two iPhones. One for me which will have to be surgically removed when it dies so that a new one can be installed, and one that my wife uses for phone calls, taking photos of cats and grandchildren, and marveling at her newly discovered ability to send and receive text messages…that is when she remembers to take it with her.
A fitting footnote might be the prodigy of that first computer, the Apple IIe. No, I don’t still have that one. It wasn’t functioning properly and was handed off to my son after the first Macintosh was dedicated to duty. Lee was young, yet to enter school, but he somehow managed to make it work and was playing games on it the same day. How did he do that? He told me at the time, but I didn’t understand it, even then. Today, he has a degree in computer networking and maintains IT networks and automation equipment for a manufacturing company in Mount Pleasant, Texas, with locations in four, or is it five, states…and he still plays computer games.
So, what does a reformed “I’ll never need to know how to work a computer,” type do with all these devices? The easier answer is the same as it is for most of us today, “what would we do without them?”
Some things have not changed, however, since the days of that iconic green-and-white paper. I’m still getting error messages.
— Leon Aldridge