Wednesday, 2 December 2009

My two and seven tenths decade relationship with computers

Firstly I am shocked to realise I can wind back 2 7/10 decades in my life and have actually existed – let alone been able to walk and talk!!! Hey ho.

Technological progression has been startling in my lifetime and it's only when you stop and reflect, that it dawns on you just how much change has actually happened.

*******Fuzziness to indicate time travel***********

My first encounter with a computer was in 1982 I think. I was 13 and it was one of those old BBC computers in a school designated ‘lab’. I have to admit I was quite taken by Basic programming (a fully fledged nerdy thing going on). Everyone’s favourite in those first lessons, of course was to write something like......

10 Write ‘poo’
20 Goto 10

A tool useful for exercising our puerility – fantastic! It was, I realise, those early years in computing that made me wrongly assume that working with computers was always going to be all about programming them. It took me years to get rid of this idea; years before I realised that I would not be writing the program of the word processor that was going to prove to be an extremely useful tool.

The next chapter in my computing companionship was probably the family purchase a couple of years later of a Commodore 64 that plugged into our TV. I remember repeatedly loading a programme called ‘Petch’ using a tape player style input. A little penguin went round a maze pushing ice cubes as it was chased by yellow blobs and had to collect coins (I think). I was addicted and became the family’s top scorer.

My A-level years: 1984-1986 with Maths (A!), Physics and Chemistry (a dyslexic’s A levels) surprisingly had no computer engagement at all! I was still playing Petch at home though. A degree in environmental chemistry was also remarkably computer free. I have a sketchy memory of a computer aided physical chemistry experiment but it might have been a dream.

A brief encounter at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries had me using a computer to analyse the output of an experiment but I lasted three weeks before moving onto two years as a research scientist for British Sugar in a building that had just one computer in the reception that I never went anywhere near.

My teacher training PGCE introduced another computer suite - this time white and space age-like. - not like the fake wooden plastic TV boxes and beige keyboards back in the early 80s. We were told we could access it if we wanted to. I didn’t. I still did not understand why anyone would.

My first teaching job brought a single BBC computer to the corner of my classroom. Occasionally pupils played a game where they commanded a turtle to move around a screen to make shapes or loaded a program that gave them numeracy puzzles.

It was during my time as a teacher that the exponential developments in computing became apparent. I was aware that it was something some people were comfortable with and some weren’t and the responsibility of which category described you was your own. So I bought one. A ‘486’ something, with no internet and loved its word processing and solitaire-without-cards capacity. There was not a single file or programme I hadn’t explored. I knew the computer inside out. But computers kept evolving….

My first encounter with the internet in about 1995 was full of disbelief…sort of…’you’re telling me I can search for anything by typing words into a search engine..really?’ I didn’t believe it even when I was using it or really understand the concept of a search engine. How did it know where to look or what to bring me? I was visiting a boyfriend in North Carolina and heavily into ready history books by Alison Weir at the time and spent time in his office accessing documents about the Tudors. A little unimaginative but at that point the enormous scope of the internet wasn’t yet there – in my understanding or in reality.

The internet arrived at my house inside a Pentium at the end of a phone line and I became as computer literate as I am now (not hugely but I can do all I want to do). I have since replaced this computer a couple of times – like most people I suspect.

I left the classroom some time ago and perform a job that hinges completely on a computer and communication through it. I would love to get into a time machine and experience the sudden culture shock of an office job in the 70s. How DID they do it?

Was my journey a typical one? Will I get to an age where I simply feel left behind with no desire to keep up? Will there be a counter-revolution with a return to a love of basic skills? Will people realise that sitting at a computer for hours is so biologically not what our bodies are meant to do and come up with a computer generated ‘real experience’ alternative? Who knows but I'm off to update.


  1. I am thick. I don't get the 2 7/10 6 7/10 thing! eh?? I think a lot how only twelve years ago I didn't have a home computer and lived life very very happily without one. Now, my computer is a huge part of my life - mostly very pleasurable but when I go on holiday and am away from my computer I feel much better and 'natural'. So much of life now (work, writing, finding info, social contact) is through the friggin computer. I do like the idea of sittng down with a fountain pen and a nice new pad like Roald Dahl in his shed (actually he used a very particular type of penci) but I've pretty much lost the ability to write legibly (seriously - it is a struggle). P.S. Never played Petch. I drsw the line at games.

  2. Never played computer games??? *shocked* Haven't lived!!!!

  3. I think they are fantastic. We have a very protest ant attitude in the UK - that learning and searching for information somehow ought to be difficult, time consuming, worthy - otherwise it is no good. Well bollocks to that; computers make things much easier and life is better for it. And in any case, no point fighting, they are here to stay.

    I never did the BBC basic thing - started through work in the late Eighties. Took a while but now I spend ten times the hours at my PC as at the TV.

  4. Couldn't let that typo go by. Protestant has now become a Protest Ant! Ha ha.

  5. Don't get me wrong Mark - I LOVE my computer and the pleasure it gives me! But it can't be good for me physically! Still draw the lines at games though! Can't bear them.


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