When I was in the fifth grade I spent a lot of time with my friend Ken. We gave up our interests in superheroes and took an avid interest in Dungeons and Dragons. Ken’s mother, being a nurse, scorned our desire to sit inside the air conditioned house, lounge on couches, and remain pasty white. She urged us to get outside, get some exercise, and enjoy the fresh air. Exercise? So overrated. We usually got as far as the shade of the front porch and, on Walnut Creek’s brutally hot days, and longed for the cool air inside.
One day, Ken got a Commodore Vic 20. A little slice of digital manna dropped from heaven to grace us with its presence. We now had an excuse not only to sit inside but also in front of the television.
Ken’s almighty computer bewitched me. He explained to me that it could hold 3,584 bits of information. “Three thousand, five hundred and eighty-four?! Wow!” The sheer power, I thought. “What’s a bit of information?” Ken and I had our first post-modern geek discussion where we discussed reality described by 1s and 0s.
The Commodore Vic 20 kept us captivated in front of the television set which it used as a monitor. All we had ever seen on television up to that moment was the drivel someone else had produced—absolute garbage about the Brady Bunch. We knew that no one lived such a sweet, ideal life. Life was about eating your vegetables and living with your parents’ issues.
We tried to feed the Vic 20 every foul word we could remember and wrote bitter invectives against our resource teacher who we secretly despised. We knew that we were destined for greatness and the Vic 20 would pave the way. Finally, life would vindicate us.
After a while, the Vic 20 grew old—perhaps two weeks later. Ken’s mom saw it as tool for education, but we had no interested in spelling programs or math tests. We got that stuff every day in school. Why would we want it at home? We longed for adventure. We longed for being more than the servants of the recess bell. So we slowly migrated back outside to a world where we could dream of dragons and powerful heroes seeking gold.
And I hadn’t thought much about the dreams of grandeur instill by the computer until, in an old box stashed at my parents’ house, I found my first computer. It was just a piece of paper actually. It was an old sheet of ruled paper, folded over, with a makeshift keyboard drawn on it. It even had a place at the top where I could insert programs to view through a “cut out hole” screen and then pull it out through the bottom. This computer even had drawing of wires on the inside with a place for batteries and a connection to the on/off switch on the front.
My first computer came from my fifth grade imagination and found its fulfillment on a sheet of ruled paper. Computers have held this place in my life for a long time. Sure, I love the wires, the technical specifications of processor architecture and the hum of the fan, but only because it provides a way to find adventure and move beyond being a servant of the recess bell.