(Keep Feeling) Fascination (Part II)

In the coming months after my discovery of the computer, I was completely and utterly hooked. My Dad, who worked in the computer data storage industry, spent many hours encouraging me to learn all I wanted to know about computers by buying me manuals, books and even a TRSDOS (the Tandy Radio Shack Disk Operating System) floppy for a whopping $49.95 at the Radio Shack that was in Five Points near the University of South Carolina. I learned to write simple programs and spent hours after hours typing in programs from magazines like Family Computing and 80 Micro into the computer and saving them on 5 1/4" floppy disks.

Simultaneously, the home computer was becoming the newest thing to have. Back then, though, there were many different manufacturers of computers and each manufacturer had a completely different way to do things and their operating systems were completely different (read: "incompatible"). I used a TRS-80 Model III with 32K of RAM at school but had no computer at home at the time. My neighbor across the screen had an
Atari 400 (a great game machine but a so-so computer!) and another neighbor down the street had a TI-99/4a with a speech synthesizer which was really neat. Yes, the Ti-99/4a's speech synthesizer sounded like Robbie the Robot when it spoke, but in 1982, it was the coolest thing I had ever heard! All of these machines were so different from one another and all were fascinating. It was all so new!

Even Hollywood got on the proverbial bandwagon with these new things known as computers. In 1982, my family went to see "Tron" and saw a man get sucked into a computer and have to fight his way out. In less than a year later, we were fascinated at the prospect that a "nerd" by the name of David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) and his
IMSAI 8080 computer could somehow touch off World War III by triggering a launch of our ICBMs and blowing up the Soviet Union. We witnessed the dark possibilities that computers might someday become "self-aware" and wreak havoc on humankind in 1984's "The Terminator."

There was no escaping the newness of computers on the small screen of television either. TV shows seem to suggest that computers could do anything. Who could forget "Knight Rider" and the KITT computer inside the baddest Trans-Am out there? It seemed that Rock Hudson could find out anything he needed to by logging his Apple ][e onto some mysterious computer system in "The Devlin Connection." Computers seemed to be everywhere and they were the "it" thing to have both in the movies and in real life!

Apple forced a paradigm shift in the ways computers operated with the introduction of the
Macintosh in 1984. The Mac was the first home computer that would incorporate the aspects we would later accept and embrace: the Graphical User Interface (GUI) with its WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") capabilities. It also ushered in the ubiquitous 3 1/2" floppy disk, the mouse and later the laser printer and desktop publishing software.

Dad and I liked the Macintosh but he felt that there was little software available for it at the time and that it was a tad limited in terms of its memory – only 128K at the time – given it was graphical-based instead of text-based like the rest of the computers out there. In April of 1985, Dad bought us an Apple //e Enhanced with a DuoDisk drive and a green, monochrome monitor, and the Apple //e Mouse.


This was our first "home computer." In ninth grade, I typed my first paper on a computer. The Apple had replaced the IBM Selectric II typewriter for me almost overnight. Nearly all papers in school were "neatly handwritten" then. On rare occasions, a teacher would receive a paper that had been typed on a traditional typewriter. At the time, I think the first paper typed on a computer and reproduced on paper by a "printer" that my teachers had seen was from me! I cannot say that the program I used was a "word processor" per se, as I could not do anything with the program other than compose text and move text around by selecting it and cutting it or copying it and pasting it where I wanted it to be located. I couldn't underline or boldface anything. Later, I was told it was called a "text editor."

In any event, I graduated to an all-in-one program called, "AppleWorks" that had a word processor (which would let me boldface and underline words!), database and spreadsheet, and have typed all of my papers on a computer since then. Today, a typed paper is commonplace and probably required. Back in the mid-'80s, it was all new and fascinating.