There was once a time when owning your own PC was kind of a big deal. We had the earliest versions of the IBM PC and ran MS-DOS and had a monochrome monitor which was amber because the relentless trouble-shooter thought it was superior to green. It sat on a metal desk that fit together with hand-tightened screws and had a section with an oblong cut-out for the continuous-feed paper to go into the dot-matrix printer from a box on the floor. We bought a box of floppy disks for it, and you had to be careful with them because if they got bent they wouldn’t work. The PC came with manuals that were held in little three-ring binders. I vaguely remember actually looking up things in the manuals, the way you might have looked in your car’s manual for information about what kind of tires you use or how much gas the tank actually holds. Before there was the world wide web, there were local networks, like the one I used at the University of Utah, accessing it through our dial-up modem, but search engines were a few years away.
Instead of learning to write computer programs in BASIC, the generation just before me had to use punch-cards and main-frame computers. Instead of getting scientific calculators they had to learn to use a slide rule. We got the chunky TI-30s, with red LEDs. You could enter “07734” and say hi to the person behind you. I broke mine again and again, because they did not survive a fall from high school desk height. I probably would not have made it through AP Calculus had we needed slide rules to compute logarithms. It was a pretty close call as it was.
I have been through many generations of TI calculators since then, and with every generation they make the appalling choice of changing all the menuing and key-strokes. By the time I retired from teaching a few years ago (for the second time) I no longer taught students how to do things on their TI-86s; we would search the term together in real time on the SmartBoard, launch the giant calculator application, and punch it in. I expect that Texas Instruments line of scientific calculators will go the way of the slide rule, having been absorbed functionally by laptops or tablets or smartphones. The savings in batteries will be significant. If any of my sons goes to business school, he will no doubt cover them in his strategy class, just as we learned of the sad decline of Kodak.
I remember the first version of Windows that we ran at home, and I remember playing Reversi on it. I also have vivid memories of drawing on the computer, using MS Paint. Over the years, this little program has had only a few features added, so using it is like a trip back to the early days, with diskettes and DOS prompts. It’s awkward and sometimes clicking the little paint bucket yields surprising results. It feels like drawing with crayons. All of my drawings with it are charmingly terrible. Even a copy-and-pasted screen-shot done with Paint looks kind of crummy. I do not think I have ever needed any help with it at all. With every new generation of Windows, Paint is still there, unchanged, untalented and unappreciated. By the time Microsoft sees fit to eliminate it for something better, it may be on a version of Windows I don’t buy, because I will have moved on to a Mac.