What I Miss About Old Computers (Part 5: Welcome To The Information Age)
If all my computer experiences before this were anything, they were the foundation in which I would interact with computers from this point forward. Because once Windows 95 was out, and I was a part of it, like for many people, it became the environment that I would live in and evolve with until the present day.
It was 1997 for sure. I remember it well. I was 15 years old. The year before we had just gotten the N64. Then the next year, we got a … brand new computer! I was freakin’ JACKED. The specs of it I can’t really recall for sure. It was either a 133Mhz or 166Mhz AMD K2 processor. 16MB of RAM at most. Hard drive? You got me. But it had one. And a floppy and CD drive. What a time to be alive.
The early days were mostly just poking around. Checking out the software that either came with Windows, or also some Word processory sorts of things. I’m sure there was a spreadsheet application in there somewhere. I don’t really remember playing too many games on it, though I’m sure that I did. I’ll have to dig a bit deeper in my mental archives to see if anything pops up.
The funny thing about this machine was all the problems we had when we first got it. My parents had bought this machine assembled from a local computer shop. I don’t know if was the same guys, but this shop was at least at a different location than we’d taken the old Apple IIe to. I want to say this shop was on 2nd Street downtown in Dodge City. I scrolled through Google Maps, but I couldn’t find for sure the place, but a couple that it may have been. The funny part, was when we took the computer in after we just couldn’t stand the freezing anymore. While they took it into the back to check it out, we were able to freeze absolutely every floor model PC they had on display, just by clicking around in Windows. Whether they gave us a different PC, or our money back… only my Mom could say. But I know we ended up getting a new machine one way or another.
The new machine still crashed. But nothing like the old one. You know, the standard Windows 95 just decides it’s done crashing. But oh man, Windows 95. In the way that the Original Super Mario Bros. game made it seem like there was a whole world hidden inside your TV that just begged you to come explore… Windows 95 felt like more than the machine it was on.
I want to try to draw the distinction as clearly as I can. My old computers, it was all about what your computer could do. What were it’s limitations. With Windows 95 it was more like where could this computer take you? You could meet new people, learn new stuff, make things, sell things, share things. It was absolutely insane how it networked people together, made forming communities possible.
Our ISP that we used in Ingalls was United Telecom. Or “ucom” for short. Even just typing “ucom” brings back memories. You’d dial into the actual local number, hear that all too familiar modem handshake. And boom. You were Connected! Ucom in retrospect was a fine enough ISP. Like a lot of places it was them, or nothing. They definitely weren’t cutting edge. We started out with 14.4kbps. To put that into perspective that would take you 8 seconds to download this picture of a dial up modem.
As slow and clunky as it was though, that internet was something magical. Just talking to my friend next door on ICQ felt completely awesome. Building my first website on Geocities really did feel like sticking my flag in the ground of this new digital homestead. When I got my first email address of my very own, not shared with the family, it was a huge part of establishing my own identity. I feel so fortunate to be there for the birth, the wild west of it all.
It’s crazy to think about how far we’ve come. Every device is connected now. Phones, thermostats, game consoles, TVs. But back then, you had one. One portal to this online world. Full of insane ideas, and honestly great people. I remember having to share computer time with everyone else in the family. I remember having to get a second phone line installed in our house because literally no one could call us or use the phone. It’s definitely a thing I take for granted now, having the internet wound into so many places of my life. It’s my calendar, it’s my work flow, how I take notes, how I take pictures, you name it. But those old machines… Slow. Noisy. Unreliable. The things they could do still impress me today.