Digital Hell, two

Here is the second chapter of “Details, Details.” I had wanted to keep you, faithful readers, in suspense longer, but I couldn’t come up with anything quickly enough to have a post ready for today otherwise (unless I let loose my political-views posts, and the world may not be ready for those yet). If you need, refer to yesterday’s post, chapter one, here. Having riveted your attention to each choice word, in chapter two I take a step back, building the suspense as you wonder, “What did his computer, crashing evidently, have to tell him?” Perhaps I provide some hints in this section of the story…

Details, Details (continued)

2.

The Apple II

My first computer was an Apple II. I will admit, I wasn’t thrilled about it. I’d been typewriting my way from success for almost five years—counting college, and, man, I’d typed like a demon in those days—, and I didn’t see what this ungainly box and glowing green-lettered screen was going to do for me. It was 1982, and George Orwell was in my thoughts.

But the boss was persistent. These things were the wave of the future, selling like hotcakes, could do almost anything you asked of them. And he even put a printer right in my cubicle, next to my little baby. A nice modern dot-matrix Apple ImageWriter. I even got a box of ribbons to squirrel away in the bottom of my file cabinet.

I walked in one morning, and there it was—the future. I no longer had any desk space to speak of around the thing. I had no idea how to turn it on or what to do with it. I just sat down and stared at the empty screen for about five minutes before I noticed a spiral-bound instruction book leaning up against the left side. With that guidance the machine got powered up, and fortunately there was a nice little program called AppleWorks all ready to go on the delicate floppy disks I had to keep switching.

It only took about three weeks to figure that thing out.

I don’t believe I did ever learn all the codes to get the program to do the things it could, but I was pretty good at boldfacing, increasing type size, filling down and copying across in spreadsheets, and churning out databases (well, I thought they were databases then—maximum of one line of type per record), and I was the information processing man at our little company.

Then we actually did something at the forefront of a business movement, for once not trailing by months, years even, after the big boys. I got fired. Downsized. It happened about four years later; profits weren’t so good, so the company decided to let some of us go—just about everyone at my office. Today they call it downsizing; then we just cursed our bitter luck.

I went on unemployment for eight months, more or less, taking a few stupid jobs (I even managed a, well, unnamed fast-food franchise for about six weeks) in between. But at last I got on with an insurance company out of Chicago. And got introduced to IBM and DOS.

A certain lack of enthusiasm colored my experiences there, but the technology stood me in good stead for days and jobs to come. With my Apple II I’d never used that last command to leave the AppleWorks shell and endure the Pro-DOS environment, but on my IBM PC Jr. I got accustomed to the concept of an operating system, memorized new codes, and got familiar with Lotus 1-2-3. Really familiar.

And I didn’t like it at all. But who knew better?

Anyone who’d listened to that first Macintosh ad back during SuperBowl 1984, as I learned later. But who, wonking along in the regular business world (not in artsyfartsy fields like graphics and layout and whatever-the-hell that was “desktop publishing”), knew anything about a “graphical interface”?

…her computer… (Is it watching?)

A friend of mine as it turned out, an old high school associate, art major in college, had tried for a few years to be a real artist, chickened out and gone in for corporate security, and who worked for a magazine publisher (ok, unnamed again). And she bought her very own personal Macintosh IIfx with the unbelievable, fantastic what-the-hell-is-that total of 24 MB of RAM. It was 1990 when we both attended a class reunion and got reacquainted.

It turned out she was working not far (only about 300 miles) from me. Hey, right next door for these days—especially considering she looked pretty fine and had, like me, stayed single. My first Macintosh experience: just like sex (okay, it was sex, but the Mac was watching; and later she let me play with her mouse).

That machine was a revelation. Working with it felt like what working with a computer should feel like. I converted in less than two hours, and I became a secret and sometimes vociferous Mac addict. So much so that when offered the chance to select my own hardware when the office determined to network a few years later, I insisted on getting a Mac. A Quadra 650.

Our computer whiz/network administrator wasn’t happy. He whined about Macs being “noisy” network machines. I told him that all my PCs had been louder with fans and disk access and whatever than any Mac I’d ever touched. He just rolled his eyes. “Noisy” meant putting lots of information, or signals at any rate, over the network—unnecessary signals that just slowed down all the other “traffic.” I nodded. But I still insisted. If we were upgrading, then I wanted to upgrade to a Mac, my Quadra 650.

I didn’t get it.

Such is the business world. PCs were cheaper, and Microsoft had invented something called “Windows” that did for real computers what the Mac was for itself. Hey, the guy told me, if I really wanted to, I even could use a mouse (like that was some big deal or something). Unfortunately, my artist friend was of the past by then and playing with mice had lost its spice.

So they networked the offices, running all kinds of wire all over the place while we wage slaves weren’t there and while we were there—trying to do real work in the old-fashioned way: without digital technology until the networking guys got finished. And upgraded, putting brand new Wintel machines on everyone’s desk. (Okay, so I didn’t know to call them Wintel boxes then, but that’s what they were, clones; I’d better leave the manufacturer’s name unmentioned.) It was summer 1993. The beginning of everything.

Now you’re wondering. …Aren’t you? Wondering just how much of this uncompleted story I have written. I’ll tell you: there is more than this. But for tomorrow I have something a little different. So you will have to be patient…

Chapter 3

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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