In my day, we didn’t have big fancy computers. We didn’t need them. We got along just fine without all that frippery you call progress.
We didn’t have big fat motherboards loaded with extra slots and integrated thermometers and fan controls. All we had was an S-100 motherboard, and if we wanted a CPU, we had to install one on a daughter card.
And we didn’t have any fancy i7-980x 6-core chips with hyper-threading running at 3.33GHz. We didn’t have overclocking to 4.6GHz. We didn’t have water-cooling and we didn’t have those big 4-inch fans roaring like jet engines either. No—we had an 8-bit Z80 running at 4MHz and we were glad to have it. That was more than enough to keep grandpa happy.
If we wanted a clock in our system, we bought a clock card. If we wanted a parallel port for the printer, that was another board. And if we wanted a video monitor, we bought a video card with a serial port. No, we didn’t have onboard video. We didn’t have 590 GTX video cards running 240 frames per second and we didn’t have an oversized 30-inch display with 2560×1600 resolution, 32-bit color resolution and a wide-gamut CMYK profile. We didn’t fill our desks with two or three widescreen monitors either. We had a 17-inch black-and-white CRT with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and we considered ourselves lucky. It gave us green letters on a black screen, 25 lines of 80 alphanumeric characters, and we got our work done just fine.
And after we connected our monitor and our printer, we had to configure each of our separate programs for the specific monitor and specific printer, and that’s how we installed our hardware. We didn’t have your plug-and-play fancy drivers that could figure out for themselves what hardware and software were installed.
We didn’t have sound cards. We lived without. We didn’t have a 5.1 channel X-Fi Sound Blaster with stereo speakers and a subwoofer under the desk. We had a Ctrl-7 beep and that was more than enough. We got along just fine.
We didn’t have 16GB of RAM sitting pretty in its own little slots. We were happy to have 32KB on a daughter card. And if we wanted more RAM, we could buy another card and fill the system out to 64KB of RAM. You can do a lot in 64KB, you know.
We had assembly language and we had BASIC. We had WordStar and dBase II, and we worked an eight-hour day and accomplished everything we needed to.
Hard drives? No, we didn’t have those whopping humongous 3TB drives. We had to get along with 5¼ inch floppy drives, each one holding 90KB on each side. And we never felt deprived.
We didn’t have Windows and GUIs and 64-bit operating systems. We had CP/M, and that was enough. If we wanted to copy a file from one floppy to another, we typed “PIP D:FILE0012.SAV C:FILE0012.BAK /V,” and that worked just fine. We didn’t need any silly drag-and-drop nonsense.
In those days, we didn’t have an Internet. We didn’t have a Google or a Yahoo. We didn’t have broadband running at 10MBS. We had dial-up at 300 baud. We didn’t have your fancy Facebook, we had CompuServe and we were happy to have it.
We didn’t have thumb drives or SD-cards. We didn’t have CD-ROMS and DVD-ROMS. If we wanted to send someone a file, we copied it to a floppy, put the floppy in a special cardboard mailer, and took it down to the post office to mail it.
If we wanted to play a game, we had Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork, and later on Hack. We didn’t have SimCity, we had Hamurabi, and that was hard enough.
Okay, eventually we had to upgrade to the 8086 chip, and then even an 80286 running at 12MHz, and finally a 33MHz 80386, but that was only so we could have IBM compatibility. But we made due with MS-DOS, and we got our books written and our spreadsheets calculated and our data based. We had an EGA card that gave us 16 colors at a time, and for most of us, that was living above our station. We had Turbo Pascal and Visual BASIC and WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. And, if we could afford it, a whole megabyte of RAM.
Back then, if we needed something done, we wrote our own code. We counted clock cycles because it made a difference, and we optimized our code to keep it fast. We didn’t have admins and IT guys and sysops and wizards. We didn’t have geeks and freaks and dorks—we were the geeks and freaks and dorks. We knew the difference between a parallel port and a serial port, an EGA and a VGA. We had to.
In my day, computers were hard to use. A computer was an intelligence test. Being a black-belt geek was something to be proud of. But you kids today! You don’t know how easy you have it with your 4G this and quad-core that. You take it all for granted.
But, would I go back to the old days?
Hell, no! Now get offa my lawn!
David Gerrold is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes, including the famous “Star Trek” episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Gerrold is also an authority on computer software and programming, and takes a broad view of the evolution of advanced technologies—a frequent theme in his stories. Readers may remember Gerrold from the Computer Language Magazine forum on CompuServe, where he was a frequent and prolific contributor in the 1990s.