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Reflection can be fun

21 May 2024

As someone who has been involved in microcomputers since the late 1970s, I have many fond memories of those early days.

Those were the days when microcomputers were the domain of the dedicated hobbyist who was prepared to get down and dirty with a soldering iron, many, many hours of patience and a pile of manuals that would probably reach to the moon and back if stacked appropriately.

Those who spent all their spare waking hours prodding at keys, flicking switches and rejoicing when lights blinked and words magically appeared on a screen were dismissed by the majority as "a bit odd". We were creatures of the night who lived, and breathed hexadecimal math and machine-code.

However, even we had no idea where all this tech would get us a mere half a century later.

It was only when the first "store bought" microcomputer systems landed on retailers shelves that we perhaps got a tiny glipse of what the future might hold.

My first microcomputer didn't look anything like a real computer. It was a stack of PCBs and a rat's-nest of wiring all shoehorned into a standard-sized project box. That box was, in turn, connected to a series of other boxes, containing such crucial components as the power supply, the TTY emulator, the cassette-tape interface etc. This was not something you'd proudly display to friends and family, that's for sure.

However, with the arrival of slickly designed and built consumer-grade microcomputers such as the TRS80, the Apple II and the Commodore Pet (I always felt that the PET's phyiscal design was gorgeous), things began to change and computers were as much about styling as function. Finally they had a place in your average household because they were not something that looked like a teenager's messy bedroom.

It was only once we had these slick, mass-produced microcomputers in homes that a few visionaries had the courage to make bold predictions, such as the ones in this video from 1980:

I'm pretty sure that most of the people who watched that documentary on TV would have been rather skeptical about the future vision of some who were interviewed in it.

Seriously, all these computers would be connected via the telephone network and have access to almost every bit of data on the planet? Nah... too science-fictiony to believe, right?

And, even if it did happen, surely it wouldn't happen in a single person's lifetime, would it?

Well we know the answers to those questions and the proof is all around us. Even the claim made in the documentary that computers would eventually be found in all our appliances and devices has proven to be correct. The future is very much here, right now.

However, despite all the mind-boggling advances we've made in this area, I still have a warm spot in my heart for those early days when having your own computer, even a store-bought one, made you kind of special. How sad is it that some of my fondest memories of the late 1970s and early 1980s consist of me tapping away at a keyboard deep into the night and perhaps even until sunrise?

What surprised me recently was that I'm not alone in my nostalgia for "the good old days" and even young people are now latching onto the joy that is to be had from working with far simpler computers from yester-year. Take a look at this interesting young lady's work via her YouTube channel. I label it fascinating:

I spend most of my days looking forward to the future because that's where I plan to spend the rest of my life however, there is also joy to be had from the occasional look back over my shoulder at some of the joy I've already experienced. Life is good (well it's better than the alternative).

Carpe Diem folks!

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