When You First Tried a Home Computer

Operating Commodore VIC-20

Okay, this is a no-brainer. If you can read this, it means you have mastered a few things. One, you know how to use a computer. Two, you have figured out how to connect to the internet. And three, you have figured out how to go to a certain website, or at least read your email.

Congratulations. Had the you of twenty years ago seen you now, he or she would be quite proud.

Computers have been quite a leap in technology for Baby Boomers who grew up with black and white televisions. Indeed, some of us (myself included) have lived in areas that didn’t have telephone service. And just look at us now! Interacting instantly with people on all sides of the globe.

But with each of us, it all started with nervously typing on a keyboard for the first time somewhere.

In my case, it was 1982. I was working in a Montgomery Ward’s in Amarillo, Texas in general maintenance. My crew would get to the store at 6:00 in the morning and get the place ready for the daily rush of customers (yes, Montgomery Ward’s used to do lots of business). While sweeping the floor, I stopped at a display that featured a Commodore Vic-20. You could type up a little BASIC routine that would flash a message on the screen. There was an instruction sheet that stepped you through it. My boss, call him Jim, was an evil little troll to work for. When I walked away from the computer, it was dutifully flashing “Jim sucks! Jim sucks!”

The experience taught me that I could master a computer.

Many of us got our first computers thanks to the lure of games. Indeed, games were the driving force behind the sales of Ataris, Commodores, and TRS-80’s. Prices were all over the map, depending on how much of a computer you were willing to buy. You could obtain a Timex Sinclair with a single K of RAM that required a television for use as a monitor for less than a hundred dollars. Or, you could spring $999 for a TRS-80 Model 3 with dual floppies, 16K of RAM, and built-in monitor.

As much of a geek as I turned out to be, it was sort of surprising that I waited until late 1993 to spring for my own smart box. I could just never justify the expense, and I wasn’t too much into games. But it was the writing urge that finally made me cough up 1500 bucks for an IBM slc2-66 (basically, a 386 that had been tricked into thinking it was a 486). A couple of months later, I sprang for a 2400 baud modem and connected to my first BBS. Life would never again be the same.

I loved using a word processor that caught things like spelling and grammatical errors, and joining AOL gave me access to people looking for writers.

I long had a paid gig producing a daily column for FamilyFirst.com. I decided long ago that while being a full-time writer was feasible, I enjoyed my job as a geek too much to pursue it. So it was a nice little diversion on the side, thanks in large part to a Commodore Vic-20 I encountered 25 years ago.

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