‘Tis the season to regift, and in that spirit I give you, dear readers, a blog I wrote for the Huffington Post awhile ago on what it was like to be around at that hinge in history when computers changed the world forever.
I don’t remember exactly when TV started showing computers coexisting alongside people like friends and family members. The series My So-Called Life ran from 1994 to 1995, and although it centered around a fifteen-year-old, there were no computers. I saw an episode not long ago, and their absence was startling. Look! Angela Chase talks on a telephone that has a cord. She doesn’t text anyone or own an MP3 player. She does her homework with pen and paper.
That was only eighteen years ago. Yet Angela Chase’s world is gone.
There aren’t many advantages to learning how to use computers as an adult—none, actually. I play permanent catch-up, and I will never catch up to the people who learned as children.
But I witnessed an amazing hinge in history: those days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when personal computers were about to change the world forever and everybody knew it.
At that time I had a Mac Plus, a castoff that belonged to my brother, who is a programmer. (He eventually abandoned Macs. I never did.) That little beige toaster was the computer that taught me how to use computers, and it is only one of my many Macs for which I feel nostalgia. Of course the nostalgia is not really for the machine, but for the time.
In the 1990s, I was part of the Macintosh user group Washington Apple Pi. Even then when I barely knew how to use the internet, I knew the internet was going to be the Next Thing.
Now I work on a powerful iMac and use two monitors, a DSL modem, and a router. I own a Smart TV and a Much Smarter DVD player. The TV, a Samsung, is—to put it mildly—challenged by the Internet.
The Internet is essential. I email friends and colleagues. I pay bills online. I am on Facebook and Twitter. I blog.
All of which brings me round to the two science fiction novels I wrote Cel & Anna and Warning: Something Else Is Happening. In Cel & Anna, a computer wakes up and falls in love with its owner, bring chaos into her life. In Warning, e-beasts roam Networld the way otherworldly beings roam the deep forests of fairy tales.
I am not a logical candidate to write fiction featuring computers. That is because I say things like “the router and the computer player are talking to each other.” I do not know what they actually do. If someone tried to explain the router-computer conversation to me, the explanation would go in one ear and out the other, so to speak.
Yet this subject chose me. That is really what it felt like. I can relate to the hapless Edwardian gentleman chosen by Edward Gorey’s osbick bird. Only after the work was finished did I realize why the stories would not let me go. I was remembering the time when the rivers changed direction. When “before computers” became “after computers.”
My muse: the Osbick Bird