I wasn’t around long enough to have to experienced punch cards or paper tape.
My first computer used a television as a monitor and could only save to audio tape. I first learned to program in BASIC when it was the only real option and back then I found it was faster to simply re-type programs most of the time. The command line was my friend and I still use it a lot (as well as key combinations).
I got to spend some time on BBSes before the internet was a normal thing to have access to. In fact, I used to have some of the basic modem commands memorized.
Printers were an expensive dream until I was a teenager when my parents got me my first computer with a hard drive. It was a 100mhz 486 (one of the last of the 486s actually) that I eventually modded the living daylights out of and dubbed Frankenstein because it was cheaper than buying a new computer (being a kid, I didn’t have a lot of money). With it, they got me a dot matrix printer which actually had an LCD display and menus (it was a real geek printer).
Back then, Sneakernet was almost the only way to get new and interesting software and information if you weren’t lucky enough to have BBS access. The other way was the meager software selections that some stores offered (there was actually a store in my small hometown that sold copies of shareware games and applications. It became a big deal to us).
I remember when AOL finally got dial up numbers even remotely close to us. We were all still running Windows 3.1x and my friend was the only one of us who had a modem. His mother (who basically claimed me as another son) got an account for us and we inevitably racked up an insane phone bill because it turns out the number they gave us was just out of local calling range.
(This is the point at which I thank her for not killing us. Thank you, Kim.)
We discovered IRC. I still remember #kwik-e-mart fondly (!squishy).
(I should also make a comment here which will only make sense to a very small handful of people who might come across this – “Bob Dole wants out!”)
My two friends and I learned HTML (later joined by another friend), made websites on geocities when it was still the best option out there, and got Hotmail accounts because it was the only way we could all have email addresses. From there, we began learning more (we even took a stab at Java 1) and started talking to people around the world who had similar interests, making many friends along the way.
I remember when MP3s came out (and was upset when Frankenstein was too slow to play them). I also remember the mod file scene that came before it. In fact, I think I still have a copy of Cubic Player and a stack of floppies worth of mod files around here somewhere.
Sometime while all of this was happening, an ISP started up in the next town over. They had all of a couple of modems in the beginning and the speeds were horrible, but it was better than AOL. By this point, we had all gotten modems and could do things from our own homes instead of Eric’s or the library (as long as our parents didn’t threaten to kill us for tying up the phone line).
We kept learning new things and meeting new people. Some of us even went on to meet at least a few of the people we met online in person and got very close to some of them. Good times were had, in one case love was found, and tragedies were shared (not least among them was when a very good friend that I’d gotten to know over the course of several years died along with her two children in a car crash late one night).
We were introduced to Linux back when it was only practical to buy on CD and was a pain in the ass to install and get working (It ate my hard drive. I’m glad it’s much easier now.). Before then, the only Unix machines we had ever seen were at the other end of a very long strand of wire that made ear-splitting squealing sounds if you listened to it.
Between the start of it all and now, a lot of things have happened. New computers, new technologies, a great deal of learning, meeting and losing friends, high school graduation, college and graduation from there, the rise of the search engine, and a lot of other things of a personal and technical nature.
Here’s to hoping that we get to keep learning and meeting new people. I wish you luck, my friends, wherever you are. I remember the time fondly and hope that you are all well.