I can still see that first night. Pete’s dad set me in front of their computer. He taught me the basics of navigating DOS. Moving in and out of folders. The different file types that were executable. Then he left us. Pete showed me a couple programs, then went to bed. I stayed up and worked through every folder on the hard drive, fired every possible file, and was hooked.
I cut my teeth on a 386dx. SVGA monitor that took up half the desk. My parents bought it for us after I spent hours at Pete’s house playing on his. With a 2400 baud modem, I would connect to local bulletin board systems, download games, and occasionally find dirty ASCII or MS Paint drawings. I’d play Crystal Caves and Duke Nukem at home. But my true love was the King’s Quest series on our family friend’s computer. I’d play every Friday night while my parents talked like adults do.
My dad spent most of his working life coding. He describes computers that filled rooms. Tape backups. Punch card readers. As a child, I was awestruck by his work but couldn’t understand it fully. I would use discarded punch cards to make flashcards to learn spelling words and the times tables, but I had no idea how they were really used. Our PC let me learn BASIC; it gave my dad a chance to teach me the basic tenants of his work.
High School provided me with one of the oddest and most telling moments about the changes in the world being driven by the PC. I had a typing class. My teacher, near the end of her tenure, had a room full of typewriters. We spend day after day practicing from a primer book, repeating letter sequences, clumsily correcting mistakes with correction paper. Then I would walk across the hall to the computer lab where I was taking a programming class. Peers were creating brilliant little bits of code. We were taken aback by one guy who could code fractiles. All things seemed possible with a PC and a working knowledge of a programming language.
Then College. Old-school terminals with green screens. Computer Labs filled with Macs (and the return of Steve Jobs!). The birth of “The Web” and E-mail. These little machines kept pushing us closer together. My Humanities degree pretty well chained me to these computers as I explored belief and technique in paper after paper.
Of course, the PC has been reborn in new and exciting ways. Laptops, Smartphones, and Tablets have fostered more personal relationships with these devices. Combined with The Internet, PCs make The Yeomen possible. Being a team distributed around the world would be impossible without a personal computer. These little windows into the world and people around us have become some of our closest companions. More importantly, they are a platform for disruption, taking power and technical prowess once relegated to rooms and specialists, and handing it out to the masses.
Happy 30th Anniversary, PC.