(Keep Feeling) Fascination (Part I)

My apologies to the Human League, but I cannot think of a better way to describe my feelings about computers and technology. Why you may ask? Because 28 years later I still find myself in awe and wonder of what computers do for us and the endless possibilities they bring to us.

Although I was exposed to computers in the late 1970s (remember the
TRS-80 Model I from Radio Shack?) when my Dad and I would go to Lionel Playworld and then to Radio Shack on Saturdays, the first time I really spent with a computer was in 1982. We moved to Columbia, South Carolina from south Florida that year. Being 12-years-old, I found myself in a place where everything I knew had changed. The surroundings had changed. The people were different. I was changing physically and emotionally. I didn't have many friends then and I became quite introverted – kept to myself and read a lot. About the only real social interaction with kids my age that wasn't while at school was either meeting them at the local arcade on the weekends and playing all sorts of cool video games (remember Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Frogger?) or playing with them at home on my Atari 2600 during the weekdays after homework of course!

As a seventh grader, I did my best to not be noticed. I felt like I had nothing in common with my fellow students. One day while in the library, I came across a machine I had never seen before but fascinated me instantly. It was nestled in a carrel in the back section of the library near the Librarian's Office. Its sleek, silvery lines and inky black keys and futuristic look drew my eyes to it. "What is this?" I asked the librarian. She said, "It's a computer." I'm sure that even then, it was a factually correct statement but one that left me with more questions than answers. "What can you do with it?" I asked still puzzled by the librarian's earlier response. "You can do all sorts of things with it. You can program games and it can help you with your homework," she replied. I didn't know what "program" meant but I was intrigued that this machine could do something, anything, for me given it was just sitting there not doing anything that I could tell. The librarian could tell that I didn't know how to make heads or tails of this new silvery box so she came over and slid her hand under the right front part of the machine and flipped a switch and it came to life with a grinding sound. Looking over where the grinding sound was coming from, I saw a black and silver badge which read, “Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III Microcomputer.”


Within a moment, a blocky image appeared on the screen that appeared to be an outline of the computer itself and it read, "TRS-80 Model III TRSDOS version 1.3 Wed Jul 1, 1981 32K System, Number of Drives = 2" along with some other text that I didn't really understand. The last line read, "Enter Date (MM/DD/YY)?"

"Have at it," The librarian said to me. Before I could voice any question, comment, concern or apprehension, she disappeared behind the Dutch door of the Librarian's Office. What do I do now? I sat there watching the blinking block of what I later learned was called the "cursor" taunting me. My 12-year-old mind struggled to make sense of what I was seeing. So I did what any person encountering something he had no understanding of - break it down into smaller pieces of things that I did know and understand. "OK," I said. "The typewriter lets me show letters on the TV screen." Yes, Virginia, I was slowly starting to figure this "computer" thingy out.