The people of my generation had grown up during an interesting time. We had been young sponges for new and exciting technologies like the internet and computers. I remember how we went from Apple 2E at school to my first 486SX which ran Windows 3.1. Although I really didn’t get into computers at school much, my childhood friend had one. We recently discussed how I would go over to his home and check out his new orange and black monitor. We played games like Drakkhen and Space Wars. Good times.
Then one Christmas both of us got new computers. They were both 486SX machines. I think I lucked out with a CD-ROM drive. They came with 2,400 bps modems. We learned together how to connect to BB Services, play each other at Command HQ. Eventually we loaded other games. Each one would run different stacks and memory allocations so we wrote complex menues using batch and config files. Windows 3.1 was the top of the world and Wolfenstein 3D was a gift from heaven.
Having to learn everything about computers on our own, we learned quickly. Something crashed, we messed around with things until they worked. A virus infection, defrag, system formats, command line in DOS, we did it all. There weren’t people to ask. There wasn’t some online forum. We did what we could with help files, manuals, and the public library.
Turn the clock forward 10 years and a lots changed. Internet is now 6 Mbps down and 784 Kbps up (well, that’s what I use. Some are still using dial up but its topped off at 56K). We have had 4 operating systems since then. 5.25″ drives don’t come installed on desktops anymore. DVD drives are now standard and my 8MB of RAM is puny compared to todays average 512 MB. A computer can be found in almost every home. But something is very interesting about all this:
Less people are interested in the nitty gritty. Getting down and repartitioning the drive, creating dual boot systems, learning the ins and out of configurations and so on.
Today it seems that it just another appliance. A computer has uses. Its a gaming box, its a word processor, its an e-mail tool. Microsoft hasn’t made it any easier on fellow computer enthusiasts either. Windows XP isn’t what DOS and Windows 3.1 were in terms of having to know all the ins and outs to make a program work. Today everything wants to “plug-and-play” and if it doesn’t, it gets replaced. I remember vaguely hearing a story on NPR regarding the decline in the demand for a computer science degree. They also mentioned that people going into college aren’t as thrilled about computers and what makes them tick. I suppose there may be exceptions to this trend. Perhaps I am just seeing more people who know nothing whereas before I saw a few who new a lot.
But the evidence shines brightly when it comes to people being less interested. I help teens install games, get ISOs burned or mounted, setup their routers, install OSs, download files, and configure programs. I am the one that they come to for help and advice. They have no idea what hardware means except what the sale pitch is or the price tag was. Its almost like the computer is just another console like a PS2 or X-Box. Something that does what you want. When it breaks, call the computer nerd.