When I was around ten my grandfather bought me a computer. With a little research I’ve discovered it was a VZ200 (thanks old-computers.com). I plugged it into an old school 12 inch black and white TV. It had no hard drive or anything like that. As far as I recall, to run programs you could either load them off audio cassette tapes, or program them in yourself. The whole process of loading off a tape and hooking it all up was so cumbersome, that after a few goes at the simple games, I was over it.
Clearly out of concern for my street cred, around that time my parents sent me off to computer camp for a week or two. I don’t recall much, but I do remember sitting in a dark computer lab, learning to program some very basic things in the aptly named programming language, Basic.
By the end of the week I’d learned how to make my computer count forever –clearly a productive task– and spent far too long watching ever-growing numbers scroll up the screen.
This was my one computer trick for the next five years or so. In middle school I remember the lab had a few Commodore 64s and PETs. They’d all counted up to some pretty damn high numbers by the time I was done with them. On top of that, the mini-geography nerd in me had a brief fling with Carmen Sandiego… But then high school, nothing. Really. I don’t recall actually touching a computer during high school. I had an electric typewriter with a small 100-character display and that was that.
So it’s likely of little surprise that when I moved to Montreal to begin film school, and my parents gave me an Apple LC, I was almost aggressively disinterested. None the less, they were clearly somewhat less grumpy inward-looking teenagers than I was at the time, and they insisted it would be useful. They even plugged it all in on my new desk. When they turned it on, I distinctly remember thinking, “hmm… The pictures are in colour now… That does look a bit better…”
All the same, a few games of Oregon Trail, and some late night essay-writing was about all the love it got, for the following two years. This didn’t change until one of my friends came around with a laptop he’d recently bought. He plugged in the modem and I first heard that squealing dial-up handshaking sound as he connected to the internet.
And with that, everything changed. Within a few months I’d bought a PowerPC with a whole gig of hard drive space and a screeching dial-up modem. I was off.
I wonder, when we look back, if that will seem like a transition on the scale of the industrial revolution, the introduction of cars, or telephones. And this scale of reaction from someone who saw it all in urban, western increments. Imagine the contrasts for someone whose grown up in a setting where contemporary technologies haven’t replaced just incrementally different modes, but entire generations of tech growth have been skipped. Where video conferencing, social networking and e-commerce on smart phones has arrived in one of the many places where there were no phones at all, and little travel or exchange outside of the immediate community.
With that rate of change, it’s no wonder rising stars of digital culture like Pinterest or Instagram seem like bandwagons we should all be on, but when I start to look at my own digital footprint, portfolio, presence or whatever you want to call it, there are some notably questionable investments of time, thought and energy.
In my next post, I want to look at where that’s getting me. What pressures are pushing me along, and what counter-pressures pull me back and make me reflect. In the meantime, I’m either going to go for a walk or update my Facebook.
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