Why, back in my day…
Pardon me while I reminisce a bit. My husband was laughing this morning at an article that reviewed the surprising lack of computer knowledge among the younger generations. The standard thought is that they have grown up with computers and so know much more than even those who have been working with the technology for over twenty years. Of course, the same was said about us back in the 1980’s. We were to be the computer generation, those who had grown up with computers and were comfortable with using them. We did eventually reach that point, but there was no immersion into the tech world. There was simply a gradual and often awkward introduction to the computer.
My father would often take us to the one computer store in our area. Holding his hand, we would walk quietly through the store as he pointed out different models and features. It was a brand new world, and we were just beginning to understand how computers might be used in both a home and an educational setting. The computers’ newness led to a certain reverence for them; they were expensive, digital, and full of a certain unknown usefulness.
We eventually obtained a computer for our home use. Without the plethora of software that currently exists, we learned programming in BASIC. Boy, was that amazing to an elementary school kid. My dad taught us the fundamentals of writing a program, and my first was probably something like this:
10 Print “Krista”
20 Goto 10
For those of you who never experienced the joy of this early programming, it simply printed on the screen what was enclosed in the quotation marks until you hit Escape. We would often type in a similar program into the computers in the store so that others would see our name endlessly running down the screen. This was the modern version of the old “Kilroy was here” graffiti; even a young kid could make a small mark on the emerging digital landscape.
At school, we had one computer for the entire school by the time I was in fourth grade. There was no regular time on the computer each day; it was only for those who earned the pleasure of some time on it. Too, as the computer was expensive and not one of many, we developed a fear of breaking it. Our teacher provided us with a lengthy, two-page flow chart for turning the computer on and inserting a floppy disc. We would go by twos to the computer, sharing what time we did have. One would review the flowchart as the other performed the tasks, making sure that we were not responsible for wrecking our privilege. Although the computers at the time were sturdier than we thought, our teacher had instilled in us the fear of “breaking” the computer through her own lack of understanding.
In middle school—at least in the first middle school that I attended—we had a small computer lab in our math class. The times on the computers were rare and still linked to earning that time through good performance and respectful conduct in the classroom. I can’t remember what we did on those computers, but I do remember one incident. When we were done with a floppy disc for the moment, we would put it on top of the monitor, out of the way of our work area. Little knowing the effect that small action might have, we continued doing so for at least a week. Our teacher, who also had no idea as to what might happen to those discs, only realized that they had been ruined by the magnetic field of the monitor after the week was over and screamed at us for our carelessness. We were clueless and certainly had no intention to cause harm, but we had been responsible. She later purchased one of the newly developed floppy disc cases for use in the classroom and printed a sign stating where the floppy discs should be stored when not in use. Clearly we all needed a bit of education when it came to computers.
I don’t remember computers in our classrooms until the very end of high school. We had one or two programs for use on the computers, but still the main activity was programming in BASIC. Too, due to the age of the computers, much of the programming was done with pencil and paper, not on the computers themselves. Even with our limited programming skills, the computers would freeze up when we attempted to run a program that we had written. And so even by my high school graduation, I had rarely used a computer for any practical use.
Any knowledge that I obtained afterward was gained through reading, experimentation, observation, and simply asking questions. Even today, keeping up with the curve of technology has required a constant search for knowledge and lots of frustration. Honestly, I believe that this willingness to go out and seek information is the key to understanding such technology. It doesn’t matter how old you are—or how often you have used a computer—you can comprehend basic computer usage and even web applications by using your noggin and seeking out help when needed. Expecting that knowledge to come naturally is simply unwise and not realistic.
Certainly social media, word processing, and the internet in general would have livened up my life when I was younger. However, I think the struggle to gain even small amounts of information benefited us in the end as we became used to research and dealing with frustration and disappointment. Despite what the older generation thought at the time, we were not immersed in technology at a young age. However, we became knowledgeable through the methods that they had taught us—those of simple hard work and the use of pencil and paper.