When I first started working with computers in 1968, the IBM 360-20 on which I used to run payroll for 30 or so customers of Harris Trust in Chicago took up about 100 square feet, give or take a console. The Burroughs 3500s and 5500s were five or six times bigger, not to mention the Univacs in the other building. Disk drives were the size of a small ottoman, and tape drives were 7 feet high. The oldest guy in the computer room was 30. We called him Pops.
In the early ‘80s Ken Granberry and I would drive miles to rent IBM personal computers at an outfit on Fullerton in Chicago that had a roomful. That’s when I learned to hate résumés.
The Kinko’s on Grand in Saint Paul rented Macintoshes for four bucks an hour, which strained my unemployment check but was walkable from where I lived. Those little Macs with the tiny screens were so much more pleasant to work with that Kinko’s could charge more for them than for the DOS machines 6 feet away and get away with it. I still hated résumés, though.
Since then I’ve used various and sundry models and brands of personal computer. The first one I owned was a DOS machine, a 286 with a 40-megabyte hard drive and a black-and-white monitor—decent. I added and swapped memory and motherboards and graphics cards for years, until I quit trying to fix everything myself.
Now I’m tired of computers. They’re useful, I admit. It’s hard to imagine writing more than a grocery list without one, just as I can’t imagine life without my family. Still, I know full well that I’ve lived most of my life without any of them, and I suspect that if I came home and found the Porters had abandoned me and taken my computer with them, I’d survive, though barely.
My inch-thick, 7-pound computer is near the center of my life, the tool on which a lot of things depend. My primary contact with many of my friends is e-mail; I don’t remember the last time I actually wrote a letter.
Other than newsletter headlines that I see by accident, my only source of news about the world is the Internet. When one of my sons writes a school assignment, he e-mails it to me for printing. I watch movies and listen to music on my computer. My job is online. I write this column and send it in with a computer, and when I make an appointment, I note it in my computer’s calendar and it tells me when it’s time to go.
While the power was out during a rainstorm a few weeks ago, I wrote a column about storms by candlelight with a pencil and paper. I think I’m onto something. I’m gonna try it again, as soon as I send this in.