- When did you/your family get your first computer?
- What type of computer was it?
- What were your favorite things to do on your first computer?
- When did you/your family first connect to the Internet?
- How did you spend time online when you first connected?
I cannot tell a lie. When I first told people (back in 1982) that I was buying a computer, they said, "WHAT would you need or want a computer for? To do your checkbook?"
No. I wanted it to play Zork and to mess around with coding in Pet Basic (later Applesoft) and (most of all) to call BBSes and CompuServe.
"Why would you want to type to people you've never met and don't even KNOW? What kind of WEIRDOS are out there on COMPUTERS?"
Yes, this was the general consensus in 1982. The IBM PC had *just* come out in 1981, the year I graduated from SMU, and the Apple ][ Plus cost around $2500 bare-bones, $4000-$6000.00 tricked out with an Applesoft card and perhaps one 5-1/4 floppy and crappy dot matrix printer. But I wanted to run a BBS myself, and therefore I applied to my employer's program for software engineers who wanted to buy a computer through the company, at a discount, through payroll deduction. Alas, the only computer that Rockwell Collins then offered was the Commodore PET. (I would have to wait another year before I could buy an Apple ][ Plus from a computer store that was going out of business.)
No one knew what a modem was or why I would want one. Again, it was thought of as "extremely WEIRD" for anyone to get online, whether it be on CompuServe (I was [70356,62] Shalanna) or on a local bulletin board system (BBS). Later, when Prodigy came along, a few more people understood the appeal of online services such as GEnie (available only after 6 PM!), but you could still count on very few people knowing what you were talking about.
I discovered a couple of really neat bulletin board systems that were local to me. One was Teledungeon, a system run by a professor at UT/Arlington and maintained by one of the prof's favorite students. On this board, people played Dungeons and Dragons (or some variation thereof) through leaving public messages and having the DM run rounds about every day or so. Yes, it was REALLY slow. No, it WAS fun. There was also a general topics board on which you could post questions about computers or games.
I asked a question about Zork II and got an answer from the guy who maintained the board. He had completed the entire game, and told me about several Easter eggs and tricks. Soon we were talking online about books and which courses he was taking in grad school. I remember one exchange about Dickens, to which I replied, "You are smart," and he replied, "I'm not smart--just well read."
Around Christmas time of 1982, I'd had my BBS running for a few months at home on a second phone line and my new Apple ][ Plus. My mother and grandmother just shook their heads at the idea that I would spend SO MUCH MONEY AND TIME in order to have Other People using my computer. At the time, most systems were dedicated either to messaging or to downloading (of various pieces of code that were supposedly freeware, usually). Mine was dedicated to writers and to another online D&D game. The guy from Arlington became a regular user of my board. He'd page me (you could "page" the sysop by pressing CTRL-G, which rang the system's bell!) when he got home from his night job as a computer operator, and I'd wake up and get online to "chat." Think of this as an early version of texting. It was an extremely slow way to communicate, but it felt like a new and different online world.
I suppose it was, after all. Eventually I threw a Christmas party for the users of my board, and when I opened the door to this guy, it was love at first sight. Well, at least *click* at first sight. We started dating and were soon engaged. People thought we were CRAZY for "meeting someone online." Now that meeting online is the norm for people who are dating, I can say that we were early adopters, ahead of our time.
When we married in 1984, I had gotten rid of the Commodore PET and we had two Apple ][ computers and one IBM clone. Our families joked that we had more computer equipment than kitchen stuff, and they were right. We both had jobs in software engineering by that time, and were insufferable about belonging to various computer enthusiast organizations and being online a lot.
Back then, digital cameras were only a gleam in someone's eye, and cell phones were still lunchbox-sized and relatively rare. I've had the privilege of watching everyone else adopt and become addicted to "that weird hobby of yours." Ha! Too bad I didn't make any money doing all of this. It was all hobbyist at first and very much a subculture. The first time I suggested to my boss at work (by this time I was at E-Systems) that we use an e-mail system that was installed on one of our mainframes to talk to other employees, he said, "Why? You're afraid to meet me face-to-face?" To him, it was a sign of some sort of weirdness to want to be able to drop him a note as a status report instead of standing in his office doorway reciting my weekly accomplishments and being judged on what I was wearing and how my voice shook. Now people can't get off their phones texting long enough to drive down the street.
Actually . . . wow.