As a youth I was fortunate that my parents put me in nerd camp—computer programming classes at the Science Center. They had a Honeywell mainframe, in a room full of tape drives and disk drives, the disks that looked like stacks of LPs in a covered cake dish made of clear plastic.1 All that was housed in a room with plate-glass windows, and on the other side was a room full of terminals. Many if not most of them were basically teletypes with keyboards—every time you hit a key, it would dot-matrix the character right onto a roll of perforated paper that just kept on scrolling as you typed. At first I preferred these to the LED screens, because they reminded me of typewriters and if you had to debug code you reached behind the machine and lifted up a yard of paper to scan down it, holding a pencil, making you look like someone reading the stock-ticker or telegraph tape in an old movie. We started in BASIC, and the first program they showed us produced an ASCII art picture of Snoopy.2 Oh, brave new world. I think the appeal of the thing was basically identical to that of playing with an insect or a lizard you found in the yard: you do something to it and it reacts, not always in a predictable way. Maybe you can train it, you think….
When did you first realize you could get along with a computer?
1Not unlike this, but I remember them being cylindrical.
2I think it was this one, but this page has annoying music so maybe you don’t want to open it.