This week is heralded as the 25th anniversary of the roll-out of the World Wide Web (now known as the #Internet) for laypeople’s use. In commemoration of that, I want to give a belated shout-out to my first computer teachers, one long-time friend, unfortunately the late and very sorely missed Jaye Alper, and my long-time friend, Mario Cossa. Both were early users, smart and talented people who “got it” years before most people.
Mario ran a nonprofit at the time called The Children’s Performing Arts Center (CPAC). For this, he had the use of a tiny, front-room “office” on the first floor of a 100-year-old Victorian mansion on Court Street in Keene, New Hampshire. He had acquired an Apple IIe and a printer.
This beast took a long time to “boot up,” meaning, minutes. We’d turn it on, go do other things, come back and there it would be: green script, black/grey screen, blinking white cursor. No mouse. Instead, a DOS that required us to learn keyboard commands which Mario had posted on the wall and in a notebook. Floppy disks. No internet hook-up (hook-up to what?).
To see what we created, we had a dot matrix printer, loud and slow, that fed paper up through a slit in the bottom shelf of the new-fangled computer stand/desk or from the floor. It had to use specially designed computer paper that we had to pull out and separate at each perforated page ending and cut the edges off before using or it wouldn’t fit into manila file folders.
All files’ “back up” had to be done to the floppies, which Mario painstakingly labeled. IBM floppies and old Apples used very large, flexible diskettes that later became the harder, plastic diskettes that the “save” icon is modeled on.
With no other system for remembering, Mario invented and we kept a running log of each disk’s contents in a spiral notebook, with each disk’s name at the top of a page and its ever-increasing contents listed below, by file name and date updated (constantly changing). This was a system we continued to use through three more nonprofit incarnations and 15 more years!.
Meanwhile, Jaye was an early Apple adopter, also, and she had the first Macintosh I’d ever seen. In 1991, I got an LC because of her tutelage. I remember my many years of “tutoring” sessions with Jaye. I especially remember the earliest ones, in which she patiently and carefully tried to get me to understand “files,” “documents,” “folders,” “saving,” “save as,” “cut,” “paste,” “copy.” Without her help, all of Mario’s great notebooks would have gone for naught. Understanding needs to precede use. I was a slow learner in this area.
To “get” a file in the new world wide web to “live” on my computer’s hard drive, I had to learn a complicated FTP (File Transfer Protocol) and “write” the code language for it to download. To help me and because Jaye was very busy, I took workshops in Hypercard programming language, Filemaker Pro, Microsoft Works and then Word, databases and spreadsheets. Fifteen years later, I taught computer user classes to beginners, in a “great circle of life” moment.
Learning software programs for graphics in the days when there were no “snap to grid” options, all graphics had to be hand-drawn and positioned.This now seems hilarious, but then: what a pain. And, believe me, I am no artist.
The first time I decided to copy a file from a floppy disk to my hard drive, I didn’t know the “rule”: THE MOVING FILE WINS! Whatever is being dragged or introduced takes precedence over what it’s moved to when they have the same file name. Rookie mistake: I lost all my updates, edits and improvements. Lesson learned.
Very excited to have a “mouse” with my Mac LC and not have to remember (or look up) all the commands. But, I still use a lot of the keyboard commands (they haven’t changed much over the decades, luckily). Having “menus” was novel and exciting, a huge time-saver.
First modem: very loud, long time to get connected, many failures and restarts needed. Took minutes for one page to appear on the screen and often only part of it would appear. “Refresh” meant waiting many more minutes each time. Also, “surfing the web” took just a few minutes because besides American Online (AOL) and a few other locations, there were almost no pages to visit, yet. Individuals, businesses, government and other entities had no web presence.
For grant-writing and research, I had to go physically, in person, and use the library’s no-circulating grants compendia, photocopy machines. I had to take notes, use snail mail and keep paper copies of what I sent or, amazingly (for the time), faxed. In the 1980s, fax machines were just beginning to appear in ordinary business offices and homes, using that thin, fragile paper.
When my 97-year-old grandfather was close to dying in 1998, we were talking about all the changes he’d witnessed. Suddenly, he said to me: “One thing I don’t understand: fax machines.” I laughed and said I didn’t understand them, either. Still don’t.
Thirty-one years after that Apple IIe, having worked on both PCs and Macs and now using a PC, being all over the internet with social media and research, uploading and downloading with relative ease, the days of rampant confusion, frustration, modem noises and waiting many minutes for a page to appear seem distantly in the past.
Gratitude to all the programmers, creators, builders, thinkers, teachers, leaders and early adopters, especially my friends, Jaye and Mario, for bringing me into the computer age. I hope you all enjoy the fruits of these people’s and your own tutors’/teachers’ labors as you read this post.