Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Geeks Ruled the World.

I’m a computer geek. Been one for years. My first computer was this strange TI computer that had no disk drive and, as such, anything you did was deleted when you turned it off. It was a TI-99, and I was old enough to know how to turn it on, turn it off, and copy stuff from an instruction manual to such a degree that I sometimes achieved things. What I was achieving was beyond me, but the screen did stuff which made me positively ecstatic.

My first real computer was a Commodore 128. Yeah, bitches. We splurged on the 128 model. Too bad almost all of the software required us to run in 64-mode, which kinda’ negated the need to buy the more expensive 128. It was a great first experience for me. I had to debug problems, learn how to run software, and played LOTS of Impossible Mission and Ernie’s Magic Shapes. Being a cultured five-year-old, I also enjoyed the finer pleasures in life, like Astro Grover. And I will never forget the pleasures of printing out signs and banners with... Let's Make Signs & Banners, and doing it verrrrrrrrry sloooooooooowly. Dot-matrix printers weren't exactly speed demons back then.

My dad always had laptops from his work, including the very first Compaq notebook, so I usually had up-to-date hardware and operating systems, which allowed me to stay current. My adult awakening happened when a friend of mine brought me to my first computer fair. It was great. The internet was around, but the selection of hardware was limited, so fairs were the best place to get selections of the wildest computer shit around.

I still feel a great nostalgia for those days. While I would never want to go back, I like my cell phone way too much, there was something special for us geeks in the days of exclusivity. Computers in the 1990’s were old enough to have a large, robust market, lots of games, cool hardware, but still esoteric enough to be exclusive. It was still mine. It wasn’t everyone’s yet.

At this point in history, companies no longer make stuff for us. The greater market of general users is, obviously, ten times the size, probably more, of the geek market. I completely understand why companies are leaving the geek market for the market of tech-hungry average users who showed their numbers with the creation of the iMac, and have since turned Apple into the most valuable technology company on the planet, having recently passed Microsoft.

But I still kinda’ miss those days. It was a different world, a different demographic. For example, Roberta Williams (founder of Sierra and creator of Kings Quest) mentioned in an interview how she had become disillusioned with the computer market. When she had started in the late 1970’s, the computer market was a highly affluent, educated market. As such, the computer game market was dominated by puzzle games, wonderfully written adventure games, and the occasional action games.

This is in contrast to today, where most games are action games and laptops are sold at Wal-Mart. Look at all of the best-selling, big budget games of today, almost universally, they involve shooting lots and lots of things. The world has changed. I’m sure that’s good, but I’m not trying to be rational, here. I’m being a curmudgeon, dammit. The computer world used to be mine, furiously loading up the newest hardware into a gigantic, beige box at two in the morning. Things weren’t shiny, they were geeky, and that spoke to me.

Sigh. Progress. She’s a bitch. But man, I love it.

UPDATE 8/24/10:

To further add to my nostalgia, Windows 95 is 15 years old, today. I clicked through the links and listened to the Wind95 Startup sound, made by Brian Eno. It instantly elicits and incredibly strong gestalt of memories. By transport, I mean it really does transport me to my bedroom, fifteen years ago, building computers and otherwise geeking out.

Hearing that sound immediately draws out palpable memories of other sounds and images. Like the first time I played through Myst (the sound of big clock or seeing people in a book), or Kings Quest 7 (the opening movie). My first time downloading and playing the demos for Command & Conquer or Warcraft 2, and playing them a lot since I couldn't afford the actual games.

Windows 95 was there right as I experienced my aforementioned adult awakening into technology and computers. I bought a bootleg copy at a computer fair for, $5, I think. Good thing. I had no money. Most of my hardware was used or second-hand, and my software was either pirated or discount bin. I have more, powerful memories of this time than basically any other time in my computer history. I love those memories and I think that saying that I cherish them is not too strong a word.

2 comments:

noam said...

it is true, the more they became mainstream, the more they became dumbed down and bland, with lots of easy functions and no interesting features. It worries me that the technology is influencing life like this too, making everyone conform to a certain way.

Aaron MC said...

@noam: I'm glad to see that I'm not the only curmudgeon.

I wouldn't worry too much. Geeks exist as the technological vanguard. We always have SOMETHING. Moreover, the geeky drive to get cool stuff means that the user-friendly, simple stuff is invariably replaced with more complex stuff as the market acclimates to it.

For example, look at the failure of AOL in the face of the wild and woolly internet. AOL was vastly more user-friendly, but the greater capabilities and information on the internet was just too much.

I think that the big difference between today and yesterday is that now, companies are no longer willing to let something simmer in the geek circles for years. They want to try and get it out to general market AS FAST AS FUCKING POSSIBLE. This sadly means that any function that they can't iron out, instead of working on it, they just simply remove it. There will always be options, though. Look at the cell phone market and Nokia's N900. Total geek plaything.