It is hard to believe now, but back when I was a kid, there was a time when computers weren’t so ubiquitous. Back then learning to turn on a computer and launch programs and type your name in Ms Word was considered a skill worth putting on your resume.
Don’t believe me? Google ICDL and see. Back in the mid-2000s, those words were considered to be a badge of honour. ICDL stands for International Computer Driving Licence. It’s ridiculous to think about it now, but that certificate was about as good as or even better than a real driving licence. It’s an honour I never had.
I remember the first time I touched and turned on my first computer. It was the summer of 2005 (note to those from the North Pole, summer is in December not in June). The kind-hearted folks from Solon Foundation had gifted my poor mission school with 40 sparkling new computers. With such excess machines, it was decided to allow even us, who were deemed unworthy due to our mediocre Maths skills, to learn basic computing.
So on that bright Tuesday morning the twenty of us wearing our ironed maroon blazers filled into the newly built computer lab and took our seats. I had the pleasure of being assigned Workstation 14. I still miss that cream coloured beast sometimes. It was my first love.
I was kind of worried though. Normally computer students had to wade through weeks or sometimes months of computing theory before they were allowed to even turn on those hallowed machines. We had about a month before public examinations. It would be a shame if we wasted all that time writing notes about input and output devices that no one would ever use. Ever heard of the CueCat?
Thankfully my fears were misplaced. The computer science teacher, as it turned out was a big believer in hands-on learning. After droning on for a few minutes in that deep baritone of his about the usual nonsense like mice (or mouses, I have never figured out the plural), keyboards, CPU and monitors, he commanded that we remove the dust covers from the magical machines.
Then came the order to turn on the monitors. That was easy enough – those CRT things looked and worked like old TVs. Turning on the CPU was another matter, he had to show us where the power button was. Life was never the same after I pressed that power button. I saw the Windows XP logo come up on the screen and I fell deeper in love.
The rest of it was all surreal. Moving the mouse around, opening programs and exploring around was like being in a world of magic. I was Alice and this was Wonderland. It seemed like forever but it had only been two and a half hours before the teacher told us to turn off our workstations and taught us how.
To end the first lesson, as we were packing our bags to go for break, he apologetically told us the computers that we would meet in the real world would be a little different. As a security measure, our Workstations had had their CDROM trays removed to prevent students from inserting their own CDs and thus possibly infecting the machines with viruses. I happily forgave him for this slight, how dare he insult Workstation 14, she was perfect as she was.
As I left that room I was sure of one thing. I might have had not made up my mind yet about what I wanted to be in life but it would involve me doing something with a computer.
True to that vow, I am sitting here with a computer at my personal workstation. I haven’t seen Workstation 14 in 15 years. I have not used Windows as my primary operating system in over 10 years but Microsoft’s Windows and Ms Office will always have a special place in my heart.
Today it’s a different world. Fridges, routers and toasters have more RAM than the Gateway 2000 machine upon which I later honed my computing skills after leaving High School. Everything is smart now, I wish I could say the same about the people though. What? Most people cannot even spell without the aid of spellcheck. Half the time they don’t even use words opting for smileys and those other cursed emojis.
Those of this era are born digital natives. They learn to use computers about the same time they learn to touch and hold things. Launching apps is not considered a skill anymore. In fact you can just ask your phone to launch the app. There is an app for everything and Linux, not Windows, is the most used operating system in the world. It’s everywhere.
Using a computer is on par with breathing. No one cares about which operating system you use thanks to feature parity and everything running away to set camp in the accursed Cloud where governments can keep a watchful eye on what you are doing, and trolls lurk and torment the innocent, dissidents speak truth to power, and bots hatch plots on how to take over the world.
Sometimes I find myself wishing for the simpler old times of dial up and Windows XP. Back then the internet had more truth on it than fake news.
Happy belated birthday Windows and thank you for introducing me to a world of wonder.
Now I have told you mine, care to share yours? What was your first time like?
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