What I miss about the old days of computing

Lifehacker asked this week what graybeards like me (mine gets longer every week) miss about the old days of computing.

I don’t think it’s any single thing.

One attraction was the simplicity. Especially with the 8-bit computers, it was possible to know almost everything about the machine. I could fix my Commodore, I could program it, and I could design add-ons for it.

The games were an attraction too. They were simpler then. You could learn a new game in a few minutes. It might take a long time to master, but gaming didn’t have to be your life back then, like it seems now.

Part of it was just the excitement of being part of something new. The CISO where I work is close to me in age, and he said computing was a revolution when we were young, and our parents didn’t want us to be left behind. Indeed, when we were young, society’s view of computers had moved beyond the evil HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We grew up with Knight Rider, Cloak and Dagger, and War Games. The computer in Knight Rider was almost god-like, omniscient. The message of the other two movies wasn’t that computers were evil, it was what you did with them that could be good or bad. And it was exciting. There were other movies about computers and robots in those days too, and that was the common thread: Limitless possibilities.

That’s what I like about tablets and phones of today, is that they recapture some of that. We’re seeing innovation again, after a decade of not seeing it, and that’s nice.

What I find interesting though, is that regardless of our age, we have feelings for “the old days,” whether the old days happened in the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. To me, the differences between 1977 and 1997 are very significant–1997 is recognizable today as modern computing, and 1977 was all single-tasking, blips and bleeps and blocky graphics, if that.

So I think part of it is the age of innocence, and that’s why that sense of wonder happens over and over again. I can fire up an 8-bit computer or console in the basement, put on some New Wave music, and transport myself back to exactly the same feeling that some 10 year old is feeling right now.

And that’s pretty cool.

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