All the peripherals for my Dick Smith VZ200. Just plug it into a crap TV, slap in a tape and wait for very little to happen... Image from gateman.com/museum/e.html

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.

Games on Tape: They seem more exciting in retrospect than they were at the time...

Basic was an understatement. Image from vz200.org.

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.

A Commodore PET. Hours of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" waiting to happen. Image from Pikturewerk on Flickr.

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.

The Apple LC. Colour comes to my digital world. But little else. Image from Phil Gyford on Flickr.

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.

Enter the Internet... And a whole new world of reasons to use a computer. Image from Derek K. Miller on Flickr.

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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5 Responses to Bring Me the Head of a VZ200

  1. Bushy says:

    The VZ is still alive, there is a group of us enthusiasts who are still keeping them running. We now have around seven or eight emulators and just about all of the commercially written software converted over to run on the emulators. Look us up on Yahoogroups under ‘VZEMU’. Some of the fancier software is also shown on youtube. My old VZ300 still runs like a champ.

  2. I’ve wasted tons of hours on all of my computers (first one was an Apple II GS). The rate of change is so drastic. The fact I lived in a time before internet blows my students minds. So no wonder we are struggling with all that this technology entails. It’s a cliche, but it really is a new world.

  3. arron lovelace says:

    there is a VZ200 emulator (DSEVZ200) at http://www.blockypixels.com/ this one also emulates the VZ300 with double disk drives. I gave it a go, doesnt need any configs or setup so it was instantly ready at the prompt , boy it brings back memories of the old days.

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