The Beginning of (Computer) Time

Today’s post comes to us from Barbara in Rivertown!

This morning, we had a young man named Paul come to help us with our computer – just a few little things that we might have been able to learn for ourselves with some internet searches, help links, etc. but WHO HAS THE PATIENCE FOR THAT? He was probably here a half hour, and I handed him a twenty… he thought it was a bit much, but it’s the best $20 I’ve spent in a while.

I was remembering back to the beginning of my computer use, in (I guess) the mid-nineties. The internet still didn’t really have ads (!), at least nothing I can remember. About all I did was to use an online encyclopedia, look at the library catalog, and email. There were a couple of amazing things about emailing with – which ‘most everyone had at the time. If memory serves: 

1) If you caught it in maybe half an hour, you could “delete” – remove – an email you’d just sent to another subscriber. I didn’t use this a lot, but came in handy when I’d caught a major error.

2) I hadn’t yet needed to keep any emails, and certainly not sort them into folders. Whatever emails were there in your inbox, AOL would delete after two weeks – kept you on your toes! [Who knows when I started doing folders? Now there are folders with hundreds of old emails that I should go through and delete.]

So, a couple of questions:   Am I dreaming – was really like that?

What do you remember about your very early computer days?

39 thoughts on “The Beginning of (Computer) Time”

  1. My first memory, after using the school teletype to play rudimentary games, was going to my friend Roger’s house. He had borrowed a computer from somewhere (maybe where he had an internship) and he introduced me to…bulletin boards. We took the handset for his touch-tone (wired) phone and put it into the acoustic modem coupler, dialed a magic number and after a couple minutes he typed a few things and we were in a spot where you could type messages and other messages from other people would come back. It was magic. I was enthralled for hours. It was probably another decade before I got an email account, but gosh, that early “social media” was fascinating.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. The big things that stick out to me in the “early days” of home computers are how SLOW they were compared to today’s computers and that spine-tingling “SCREEEEEECHHISSSSSSSSSS” as the dial-up service connected to the internet.

    We had AOL in the early years and I did not like it at all. It seemed to be very buggy and not too user-friendly. I moved my original email account to Yahoo! as soon as I could and I’ve had that account ever since.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I still think about the slowness every now and then. Whenever I’m worked up about how slow something is in my cube these days, I try to remember my early days at Software Etc. I could come into my cube, turn on my computer, go make coffee, sort out the mail for the office, and then go talk to somebody for a few minutes before coming back to my cube and maybe the computer would be on but then it warmed up.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. All those AOL discs at all the stores and they’d mail them to you. Yep, everyone had AOL. Some of us still do! 🙂 We had to PAY for it too!
    1994 we got our first computer; bought it from a store that sold ONLY computers and it was all laid out and special. My friend Keith helped us set it up and explained to me the difference between “The Web” and the “Internet”. Doing my accounting on a computer was much easier than in the big old ledger books and adding up all those numbers at the end of the year.

    We still have crappy internet considering. Better than dial – up, but we’re not streaming anything. Because we live out in the boonies and down in a hole. We use satellite and they limit volume and speed.
    Kids a the college can’t understand how I can live without streaming videos.
    A sacrifice I’m willing to make to live out here.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The first computer I bought was an Apple iie back in about 1982. I remember I paid more than $1000 for it, which was real money back then. I don’t remember its onboard capacity but the base RAM was 4K and you paid about $100 for each 4K above that. Except for some military and scientific applications, the internet didn’t exist then. I taught myself some programming in BASIC and wrote a couple of simple programs but never followed through with that. There were a limited number of programs and games available. I don’t remember what ultimately happened to that machine—probably sold it.

    After that, I had a MS-DOS based PC. Through a U of M alumni membership, I had an email account and access to the Gopher portal. This was a predecessor to the WWW and was comprised of text-based documents and articles set up in a hierarchical tree. There were rudimentary search engines called Archie and Veronica.

    Getting onto the internet, such as it was, was not easy in those days. This was before AOL. I remember I had to go into the programming for the operating system on my computer and make some alterations. That gave me access to bulletin boards. I was a fan of the bulletin boards, which weren’t devised as advertising platforms or set up for data mining. I was shy of chat rooms because my typing speed was so slow.

    I did have an AOL email address and I think by then I had another Apple/Mac computer. Getting on the internet was easier then, but AOL was its own semi-walled environment. There were gateways where you could get to the Web, but it was indirect. With the advent of early search engines like Netscape and Yahoo, you could go directly to the Web.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I actually took a programming class back at Carleton. Punch cards!! And of course no personal PCs back then or Internet or even AOL. My wasband got us a Trash 80 when they came out but I didn’t really use it. It probably took me longer to get a PC at home than a lot of people because I had it at work and I just didn’t see the need for it at home. So by the time I was online there were options other than AOL. So I’ve never experienced “you’ve got mail”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Punch cards! Of course. I used to “key punch” as a college job. You never, ever wanted to drop the card tray. That seems so removed from computer operations now that it did not even occur to me.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. We had access to a “computer lab” in grad school that was open all night and day and where we could write papers and dissertations instead of using typewriters. We had to go to another building to get the papers off the printer. Once a friend of mine printed three copies of her Master’s thesis for her committee. It was 300 pages long. Something happened and all 900 pages were in Greek letters instead of English. We got our first co.puter at home in 1992. I think it was a Compaq.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In 1971 Westmar College, in my home town, obtained its first computer which was the size of a good size bedroom. It had far less capacity than an early smart phone. But everyone in town attended an Open House which introduced the thing to the community. A novelty at the time.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. In 1972, I openly hated computers, based on what I perceived as their rigidity and dehumanizing qualities. A popular cultural theme was, “Do not bend, fold or mutilate. I am a human being.”

    Ten years later my big Christmas gift was an Osborne 1 computer, a monitor, a printer and word processing software. The computer was an 8-bit CPM machine that ran on DOS software. It was highly limited and slow. And yet I wrote six books on that computer.

    I remember the thrill of accessing my first internet site and being able to transmit a document via modem. By that time I was using Windows on a machine styled after the IBM PCs. One day I watched a boring speech that had me transfixed because it took advantage of the new streaming technology to make my computer act like a little television set. I now spend far more time on my computer than watching television.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The early 1990s. By that time, porn sites were already profitable on the internet, showing still photographs of sex. When I saw my first streamed content–a really stupid business speech–I thought, “Hmmm, do you suppose that some day . . . ?”


  8. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    These are really fun stories. I have forgotten so many of these experiences until reading them again.

    I worked for Scott County from 1988-1993–not the earliest of computer days, but early enough. During that time we each received a desktop monitor and we were given instructions to sign up for classes about how to operate them. Inevitably, each class was cancelled because the system was not operating well yet. So I stopped signing up for anything and just ignored it. Finally there was a word processing system that was somewhat operable sometimes and we had early, interagency email. Reports, specifically court reports, were always needed. I decided to try typing one into the system.

    These took hours and were many pages long. The word processing system took the place of handwriting and dictation into a system in which typists would transcribe the report. I typed it all in and hit save.

    The program saved each word in a single word column on the left margin. I had an intensely emotional reaction, and called all my co-workers over to my desk to view the document. After I was done soliciting emotional support from my peers, who were sufficiently empathetic so calm me, I read it into the diction system from the phone, reading along the left margin. I continued to ignore the monitor until they forced me to use it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Reminds me a bit of my first office job out of college, processing claims related to student loans. We each had a terminal at our desk that connected to a mainframe and allowed us access basic information about the loan and borrower. We could add some notes based on what was in the paper file that then triggered a process to pay the claim (or not). If a letter was needed, you sent a form to the typing pool. The last year I was there they put in a computer lab that you could access to type your own letters (using WordPerfect) or do some basic spreadsheets (in Lotus123).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. In 1972 I was assigned to help the College of Liberal Arts transition from keeping paper records on all our courses to keeping those records on computers. That meant, among other things, renaming each course with a number instead of words to define it.

    Nobody could have been a worse choice for that job. I’m not good with fussy detail, and that task was nothing but fussy detail. I’m dyslexic with regard to numbers. And I vociferously hated computers. Day by day, I was dismayed to hear professors gnashing their teeth because “the computer won’t let me name my courses the way I always have.” Everyone agreed “the computer” was a bully that threatened many values we held dear.

    Somehow I learned that “the computer” was doing none of those things it was accused of doing. The real villain was primitive, cadged-together programming. That was the real source of what seemed like robotic rigidity inherent to computers. With intelligent programming, the computer could be our friend. And soon was.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. My introduction to computers came through gradual, sometimes pretty primitive, office automation. The evolution from early dedicated word processors on a Local Area Network to today’s powerful desk top or lap top computers has been astounding.

    My first exposure to a desk top computer was the Macintosh 512K back in the fall of 1984. The company I worked for at the time, one of the so-called “The Big Eight” CPA firms, was strongly committed to automating. They not only issued desk top computers to every professional on staff, but encouraged us to take them home to familiarize ourselves with this newfangled wonder. The Macintosh was marketed as “portable,” but truth be told, although our auditors did lug these tools with them to wherever they were working, they were heavy and a far cry from today’s lap tops. Not only being able to correct typing errors on the fly, but using spread sheets and data bases to keep track of all sorts of data was revolutionary, not to mention the many specialized applications.

    One thing that stands out about those early days of using email was that most of my firm’s senior partners rarely turned on their damn computer. Most of them had little interest in this new technology, and I suspect, many of them were intimidated by it. Messages to them could sit for days until I’d be summoned to their office to help them retrieve them.

    By the time I left the company in 1986, a newer, more powerful Mac was on the market, and I was allowed to purchase my old one for a pittance. By then husband had fallen in love with the Mac, and we’ve a succession of them ever since. My current computer is a MacBook Air, and I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I need to decide if I will take my laptop to New York City next week with me in case I need to do work for my regulatory board. I should probably leave it at home. The Board won’t implode if I can’t issue provisional licenses for 6 days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re going to NY on vacation, either leave the computer at home, or vow to not do anything work related on it. Your Board won’t implode. Keep in mind this quote by Bob Carter: “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We are ringing hand bells at Carnegie Hall on December 1. I just feel so guilty if folks have to wait for things. I think I can tolerate some inactivity.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. I remember the first time someone in my office played music on a Mac. It was probably in the early or mid 90’s. There were no external speakers, just the standard Mac internal speaker, and it sounded terrible. Based on that experience, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to listen to music on a computer. Now, of course, you can get fabulous Bluetooth speakers or stream to your stereo system. And even the internal speakers in today’s computers have pretty decent sound.

    Liked by 1 person

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