It all began in 1984. Orwell could not have predicted it any better. Generation X was truly the cohort that would bring about the ways in which Big Brother could infiltrate every facet of our lives. That story is for another time though, since this story is about me and how I got to where I am on the chronological timeline of electronic history.
When I was ten years old (1984) I was placed in an accelerated grade five class. The acceleration was based on CTBS scores and such and my classmates and I were placed in what would come to be known as the honours track. One of the bonuses of being in the accelerated class for grades five and six was that we had a computer in our classroom. In the late 80’s this was a rarity. Most grammar schools were without a computer lab, let alone a computer in each, individual classroom. We were the lucky ones, or at least it seemed so. The technology was new and we were to be the generation (X) of students that grew up using these technological instruments. Word Processing would not be available for several more years, meaning that we would have to continue typing our term papers on manual typewriters until we reached Freshman and Sophomore years in college. We could never imagine carrying the internet (which was not for public consumption quite yet) around in our back pockets. Yes, the computer industry would grow by leaps and bounds in the following 30 years, but in 1984 we were happy to play lemonade stand and oregon trail in our grade five class.
As you can imagine, I took to the computer like I had been at it for years. Every gift giving holiday for the next 3 or 4 years I would as my parents for an Apple IIe. You see, this was the computer that we were given to use and we all mastered it in a matter of weeks. The computer was freedom and order all in one. There was possibility in the amber screen but also the ability for teachers to keep students interested and focused. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. We all loved the Apple IIe and from the day it rolled into the classroom I was hooked.
Due to the extremely high price of Apple computers at their first introduction to the market, it wasn’t feasible for my family to obtain one. Instead, my parents invested in a Texas Instruments computer, complete with Atari-like cartridges to play games and learn how to type. My favourite program was the typing cloud. At the age of 11 I was typing 75 words per minute and almost beat the program on several occasions. These computers had no means of saving programs or scores (much like my Atari) and so each use meant starting over again. As a child, I had an inordinate amount of patience and it served me well in the first few computer systems my parents obtained.
The next computer we purchased was a Commodore 128. This model came with a separate tape recorder (yes, audio tapes) that one could save programs on. When “playing” back each program it made a horrible high pitched noise, but we suffered through. At least we had the beginnings of being able to save things on our computer system. I had an old black and white television set as a monitor and with the Commodore I began learning how to code in DOS. My mother would bring home computer magazines from work and I would spend hours on the computer typing in lines of code. Typing in ‘run’ at the end of a 500 line code would give an ASCII coded HELLO! back and I was intrigued. That summer, I went to computer camp at the local community college and sealed my fate as the tech guru of the family, at the age of 12.
Around this time my best friends father purchased a Macintosh, the original Mac computer from the Apple company. It was tall and grey and had a slim view screen. Since there were no pictures to view, at the time, the 3 inch wide screen served the purpose of being able to write code quickly and easily. He was extremely protective of the computer (as he should have been for it’s high price on the market) and would not allow us to touch it when he was not supervising. My friend was somewhat uninterested in the computer, but I was obsessed. Going to her house began to be simply to sit and watch her father use the Mac. Sometimes he would let me use the mouse (a mouse on the table, really?) and showed me how to code in this somewhat different environment. My friend began to be jealous of the computer and told me that I could no longer come over unless it was to play with her. No more Mac. I complied, our friendship ended a couple years later when we hit high school.
As we moved through Compaq and HP and other IBM compatible computers, I continued to yearn for the ellusive Mac/Apple that had been my first contact with computers. To this day I am still using an IBM compatible laptop, but someday a Mac will be mine.
Getting back to the history…
When I began my freshman year of college I had moved my computer unit (a Compaq, still using the b&w television as a monitor, but with a floppy disc drive and a rudimentary word processing (in DOS) program) into my bedroom and discovered telnet. At Buffalo State, the professors were starting to use something they called the internet. It pales in comparison the current day Internet, but for the time it was extremely useful. Having been invented by the military to use as a source of intel sharing, it was perfect for professors doing research. Telnet was the system we used to ‘log in’ to the network. At school we also had access to email on amber screened terminal units. My best friend and I would spend hours upon hours in the basement of Chase Hall chatting and mudding on Olohof or IRC. Every Friday from 1993 through 1997 consisted of classes from 9-3, work from 5-10, Gord’s from 11-2, Towne Restaurant from 3-4 and Chase Hall from 5-8 or 9. Sometimes we would skip Towne, stop off at a mini mart for soda and rice krispie treats and head straight for Chase Hall, full goth persona, to login to Olohof until 5 or 6am.
I must stop here again to stress that at this time the internet was still just terminals hooked up to phone lines with people talking. No pictures, no websites, just chat. This was enough to keep us interested. In fact, I had been calling the school telnet line from my home computer for a few months before my mother decided she no longer wanted to see the $500 or $600 phone bills due to the 5 cent per minute charges I accrued. She told me to curb the phone use or get my own phone line. I opted for a personal phone line in my bedroom and continued to pay $500/month phone bills just to get on Olohof. It was an addiction, but not labeled as such, continued on until the World Wide Web appeared.
In 1998, I logged on to a new website called iVillage. On this site they offered free personal websites and I decided to go for it. They had templates that we could use to setup the site and I created my first online persona – bubbles fletcher (my drag name, if you must know). From there I began buying books on HTML and AOL in order to learn how to ‘code’ and ‘surf’ on the Internet. Next up I purchased a domain name, hippiegrrl.com, and started doing all my code from scratch in notepad. Templates were nice and easy, but why would someone with so much computer experience half ass it, right? To this day, I still feel that way and that is why I maintain my sites and blogs with notepad rather than Dreamweaver. Using programs to code is just a crutch. At least that is how I personally feel.
As the Internet grew, I grew with it, joining the Backwash community (in 2002) and becoming an online writer and admin for a site that boasted the tagline ‘Backwash – the Internet organized by personality’. I was in good company and we were trying to make this new phenomenon more user friendly for those who did not grow up with the technology, as most of us did. Writing articles and adding links for more information was the basis for my current day journal, all learned from being a member of the Backwash community. Fellow alum are now doing great things in the Social Media environment and I believe that the bulk of their expertise was driven by being early members of Backwash. We were not only building writing portfolios, but also learning how to manage online communities and comment feeds that would assist us on future sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
Next year I will celebrate 20 years of being online and in 3 years I will celebrate 30 years with computers. I am squarely in the technology generation. Generation X might not be “the greatest generation”, but we are certainly the most malleable and the quickest to learn new things, especially when it comes to new technology. For those of us in our 30’s and 40’s the future looks bright, if we can continue to harness the greatness of the technology that we grew up with. If we can drop the petty arguments on Social Media and make it a place to truly share ideas and problem solve we could really make the future brighter for our generation and those to come after us.
Peace, Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)
Internet Archive – jump in the wayback machine and take a ride to Internet days gone by.
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