Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Technology Marches On

After thinking about it for several months, I finally bought a laptop to replace my old Dell Dimension desktop. When I say "old," I mean it was way behind modern technology. I thought I bought it about five years ago, but when I dug up the original receipt, I was shocked to see that I ordered it in May, 2002!

No wonder it was so sluggish. Its hard drive only held 80 gigabytes, while my new laptop holds 500gb. It had 512mb of RAM; the new one has 6gb. That thing was so out-of-date it still had a 3.5" floppy disk drive. What's the last time you saw a floppy disk? I'll bet it said "AOL" on it.

I thought I might find someone who'd buy the desktop, but when I did some research, it turned out to only be worth about $50, so I donated it to Goodwill. Hope someone there has a hard drive, because I took mine out and destroyed it to keep from having our personal data extracted later.

As old as that PC was, it still beat the hell out of the first PC I ever bought. In January, 1986 -- 25 years ago -- my friend Cliff Sobel and I went to a Radio Shack store and each bought a Tandy 1000, one of the earliest IBM PC clones. We went to Radio Shack because I was still moving around quite a bit in my radio career, and I knew there would be a Radio Shack in every town in case I needed repairs.

The Tandy 1000 had a whopping 270k hard drive, two (yes, two!) 5.25" floppy disk drives, and a monochrome screen that came in green or amber. I took the latter.

The internet wasn't much to speak of in those days, with no graphics at all, just text. I opened a CompuServe account and got online via a 300 baud modem (about 1/10,000th the speed of my current connection). Since we were still paying for phone calls by the minute, there was no such thing as logging on and just browsing around for an hour. Come to think of it, there probably wasn't enough out there for an hour of browsing. I acquired a program called TAPCIS (The Automated Program for Compuserve Internet Service), which would log on, download my email and all the messages from the forums I was a member of (the two most popular were the Broadcast Professionals Forum and the Consumer Electronics Forum), then log off. While you can do all of that in a few seconds now via Outlook or other software, TAPCIS took about 5 minutes to do its job, complete with the noisy and obnoxious handshake sound the modem made while connecting via a dial-up number.

While that was the first computer I owned, it wasn't the first one I used. My father was writing his books on a PC for at least five years by then, using a long-dead piece of software called WordStar. When I'd visit, he'd teach me the complex codes necessary to write even a simple piece of correspondence and then send it to his clunky dot-matrix printer. A decade before that, I was hanging out with my fellow geeks in our high school computer department, keying Fortran software onto punch-cards, which we then fed into an IBM 1600 -- a computer so big it took up an entire room and needed its own dedicated air conditioner!

At the time, it seemed so fast and modern. Now I carry a computer more powerful than that in my pocket. And my laptop is more powerful than all the PCs at mission control when Apollo 11 landed on the moon -- combined. I wonder how long it will be before I view this new laptop in the same nostalgic terms as those relics of earlier tech eras.

The irony is that, while technology has gotten both better and faster, I've gotten more impatient. A little while ago, I typed a website address into my Firefox browser and it took almost 3 seconds to load the page. Three seconds? What, do they think I have all day to sit around and wait?

At least, when it did show up, the site was in more than one color.