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Retro Night Digital Memories | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Retro Night Digital Memories

Monday night, our 4-H Tech Club had its first ever Retro Media night. Members (and leaders) brought old forms of old digital and music media. Then, we went through the different items, what they were, how they worked, and when they were used. Finally, it concluded with a presentation by our ever-talented Josh, explaining the history of old media. As I watched what was defined as “old media,” I began using computers back in the “ancient media” days.

Then I realized that those of us who used old media need to record our memories of what we used and how we used it. These will be good for future posterity. So here is mine.

My first memory of computers came in kindergarten, when our teacher had us make Christmas wreaths out of recycled IBM cards. We stapled them into points, put them on cake circles, and sprayed them gold, putting a Christmas decoration in the middle. The only other real memory I have of a computer was watching Kurt Russell in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Dean Jones in Snowball Express.

In high school, my school got its first computer (note singular number). They built a special room behind our math classroom so it could be computer controlled. The top ten math guys (yes, they were all male) were allowed to do independent programming study. Our math teacher explained to us the basics of programming, and I knew instantly I would rather study Latin instead. I had no desire to emulate those guys because I never wanted to wear a pocket protector for my pens. They carried real floppy disks that were films they put in a special envelope to carry with them in binders. My mother started to use one for work. But I thought I would never use “those” things.

I did, however, enjoy typing and was excited when our high school typing class got its first row of electric typewriters. I was in Selectric heaven. In the middle of college, an English professor made me experiment with Wordstar on his word processor. It was clever, but I saw no real reason I would ever need to use it. If I remember correctly, that word processor had minimal if any hard drive space. The program was on a floppy we put in the “B” drive, and we saved documents to a floppy in the “A” drive.

During summers in the mid 1980’s, I worked full-time in the university library and spent half my day in the cataloguing department. We typed check out cards for books (on a typewriter). We had an electric typewriter eraser in case we made a mistake on the card or call number of a book. They were discussing one day migrating to a digital card catalog, and the library used me as a focus group person – as a token idiot who knew nothing about computers to see if I could make sense of their prototype online catalog. (I did)

Then, in 1989, I had to learn to use a computer to keep my job. Part of my job involved keeping records for a physics professor who was doing space station research for NASA. Those were the dark DOS days, and I remember getting excited to see a computer with a real hard drive. Laser  printers were expensive, and the engineering/science building had 1 laser printer in it, in a computer lab. If I wanted to print something on it, I had to save the document to a disk and take it with me downstairs to wait my turn to print in the computer lab. We used an integrated word processor/spreadsheet program called Symphony because its word processor let us type in code to custom-make physics formulas for tests and handouts. We felt advanced because Symphony took 20 floppy disks to install on a PC. We had it installed on a PC in the student lab, but student engineering prankers would delete it at least every other week. So every other week, before I could print, I had to re-install Symphony. Besides printing downstairs, we had a 24 dpi dot matrix printer for every-day printing. In addition, we had an advanced IBM Selectric typewriter which we could attach by cable to our computer, and I could send standard business letters to print on it. Obviously, there was no control for font size or style, but it saved time from going downstairs for the laser printer.

We enjoyed an early version of the Internet with our research. Each day, I would manually type in commands to log into a supercomputer to run a program and later to download results to convert to spreadsheet graphs. It took at least 15 minutes of manual commands to actually make the connection. Near the end of the year, when a programming intern perfected his program to automatically log in (it took 5 minutes instead of 15 and worked without my input), I was so happy I think I jumped on my desk and danced a happy jig.

Later, I worked in an office that used Wang word processors. Then, we upgraded to a network with WordPerfect (for Dos). By this time, I was named the network administrator for the office and coordinated our office’s move, network expansion, and upgrade from Dos to Windows. In a single weekend, after we hired a new computer company to service our account. One of the most vivid memories is that the we had a 4 gigabyte hard drive in our network server, and I had to custom order backup tapes because our memory requirements were too large for what was stocked in office supply stores. This was for a computer network with 50 PC’s.

When Richard and I bought his first Mac for graphics, a Japanese factory had exploded that made an essential part of RAM. As a result, for his first Mac for graphics, we paid $100 per megabyte to put 40 MG of RAM. It was a huge amount.

Those are my earliest digital memories. What are yours?


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