What’s the First Computer You Ever Used?

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A Hewlett Packard Series 80. This was the first model of computer I ever used.

My dad was a civil engineer, and I was first exposed to computers in his office. The first one I remember using was a Hewlett Packard Series 80. It had a game called “Hunt the Wumpus” and a program that let you print mazes. This was during the period when computers were in use in engineering companies and other businesses but before anybody I knew had a computer in their home.

Around 1984, my dad brought home a Digital computer that he no longer needed at the office. I used this to write horror stories, which I’d store on floppy disks, and which I’d print on our dot matrix printer.

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Mac LC 520. Staring at fractals on this thing was intense, man.

In my second year of college, I got my first personal computer, a Mac LC 520, a thick and burly machine designed for the classroom during the era of Steve Jobs’s exile from Apple. I was excited that it had a color monitor and CD-ROM drive. I spent a lot of time playing with the screen savers and briefly got hooked on the game Myst. It also had a modem, but there were only three or four phone lines into Evergreen’s computer lab and they were always in use, so I was mostly unable to access the Internet.

I remember hearing a student say she was going to go “play Netscape” at the computer lab in the summer of 1995. “What’s Netscape?” I asked. “It’s like the Internet but with pictures and color,” she said.

When my mom first used the term “surfing the Web” I realized that the Internet had changed everything.

When I answered calls in Amazon’s Customer Service department in 1998 and noticed that many of the customers I spoke to had purchased a computer because they wanted to order books online, I realized that Amazon had changed everything.

The moment I discovered Napster in 1999 and realized that I could download any rare Ween bootleg I wanted, I knew file sharing had changed everything.

When I discovered that I could access my Yahoo mail on my phone by painstakingly entering words on the phone’s number pad…

When I saw my first YouTube video

Turned on an iPhone for the first time…

Made my first FaceTime call…

Experienced VR for the first time in an industrial Seattle warehouse…

Saw a hologram floating in front of my face…

Watched people playing Pokemon Go at Lincoln Park the other night…

We all entered this river of technology at different points based on when we happened to have been born, but all of share the experience of witnessing its evolution. Kevin Kelly, in What Technology Wants, makes a case that technology is the seventh kingdom of life, and that’s it’s evolving in a way that mimics biological evolution. We all seem to be feeling the evolution of technology speeding up, perhaps to meet our planet’s climate crisis point.

If you turn around and look backward you see a lineage of machines behind us. The HP Series 80 that I played with in my father’s office was itself designed using more rudimentary computers. These computers in turn were built using even older machines, and so on, each tool created by older tools, tools coming out of factories that were built with other tools, a family tree of thoughts scratched onto on graph paper, gears, soldering irons, screwdrivers and hammers, interchangeable parts, forged metal, milled wood, wire, string, stones, all of it interconnected and scrolling backward through the rise and fall of empires, all of it originating in the palm of a human hand.

When I was at Lincoln Park the other night I did what I do at any beach and threw rocks into the water. There’s something satisfying about tossing a rock at waves and hearing that percussive “plunk.” It occurred to me that this act, throwing rocks into water, is something that human beings have been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. Nearby, three teenagers raptly monitored their phones searching for Pokemon, something that human beings have been doing for a couple weeks now.

A couple days later, I saw this clip of Pokemon Go players stampeding through Bellevue’s downtown park.


What’s most interesting to me is that this park is in direct view of Pokemon’s US headquarters, 601 108th Ave NE, Suite 1600, Bellevue, WA, 98004. I used to work in the same building, for Expedia. You can stand at the west-facing windows of this building and look directly down into this park from the offices where all of America’s Pokemon-related decisions get made. I can only imagine that this is the reason why those rare Pokemons were placed in this park in the first place, so that Pokemon’s employees could gaze down in satisfaction upon the glory of their digital craze.

It feels like the period from inception to adoption to saturation is happening faster and faster. We now all live in a state of feeling like we can’t keep up with technology, and no one feels this more acutely, I’ve found, than the people who are actually inventing technology. We’re like the people in the video above, running together toward some strange singularity.