My Personal Technology Story

I’m part of Generation X (okay, just barely, so sue me!) and as such, I’m a pretty avid user of electronic technologies. Unlike the students who are just starting college this year and everyone younger than them, technology hasn’t always been ubiquitous in my life.


When I was about 7 years old, I got my first handheld computer game. Yup, my folks got me a Merlin. Apparently I turned pretty anti-social when I got that thing – my mom reports that she had to put it out of reach when neighbor kids came over to play.

I love that game, learning all the games and playing them over and over and over and over and over and over again. It should come as no surprise that future computer games like Tetris and QBert were also favorites of mine.

My next door neighbor had a Commodore 64 and Atari, but I never really got into either of them. That lack of getting into non-puzzle computer/video games still holds today for me. I can watch other people play them and can understand how they derive pleasure and entertainment from them, but it’s just not for me.

A couple of years later, my grade school got a line printer computer. Several of us played Oregon Trail a few times a week in the library. Gaming in the library, back in the 70s! Gotta love how what goes around comes around…

In the seventh grade, I started taking computer class. Our lab was set up with maybe 8-12 computers, and we learned how to program simple functions in BASIC.

High school brought a move away from the small town in northern Minnesota where we lived to a suburb of Minneapolis; my folks purchased our fist home computer, a Macintosh Plus. I learned to type on that computer.

In college I used a VAX email system; “talk” was the chat protocol my friends and I used on the system. My best friend who went to a different college gave me her boyfriend’s logon credentials in their system, so she and I could chat for free (this was pre-cell-phone days, and long distance was expensive!) One of my favorite professors had the first Windows computer I ever saw, running Windows 3.1. It was pretty swank.

My parents helped me purchase my first computer before I went to grad school in 1994. It was a 486 with 256K of RAM. That thing took me a long way – I had it for 6 years! I only really screwed it up once, when I inadvertently changed some video driver settings. Fortunately, my friend Mike spent a fair amount of time helping me fix THAT mistake!

In grad school I got on the internet more intensely than in college; we learned how to use gopher, archie, veronica, jughead, and wais in the courses I took. AND THEN came Mosaic, and oh was Mosaic cool. It was the first graphical web browser, and for those of us in library school, it was pretty heady to learn how to use this new tool and to try to envision where it was going to take us. Looking back now, it’s no surprise that I had no IDEA we’d be where we are now.

Since then, I’ve followed a pretty predictable path: I’ve owned a couple of laptops, have a couple of iPods, have a couple of digital cameras, and have had two cell phones. I’ve figured out how to do enough to be pretty dangerous (i.e. I can break my stuff REALLY easily but can fix most of it given enough time.) I’m certainly not on the bleeding edge, and I wouldn’t even consider myself an early adopter of most (hardware) technologies. But I am in that first wave of mainstream folks in adoption of hardware, and I like it there.

What’s YOUR personal technology history? How did you end up on the internet? What were the first computer games you ever played? Tell me, so I know I’m not the only one who remembers this kind of stuff.

8 thoughts to “My Personal Technology Story”

  1. Have we ever discussed Merlin??? It was a pivotal toy in my life, too. I am STILL sorry I ever let that thing go. I miss it to this day.

  2. wow. i think i remember merlin. but am not sure. i yearned for a pc in the mid-80s, but my mom wouldn’t buy one. i never had an atari or gameboy. but my uncle had an atari and i recall playing pong, frogger, and something else. really basic games. i felt so out of touch and somehow damaged because I could have gained technology expertise much much earlier. always played someone else’s system for Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, and Tetris. i used vax at work and in grad school. i coded html pages in vax, too. imagine that! don’t recall mosiac, i think my grad school had IE. and then it sort of boomed from there. i learn something new everyday and build upon all that knowledge. i think i’m like you in that early mainstream adaptors. but here you were geocaching in seattle and that was new to me (somewhat). i hear a lot about others using technology, but rarely run into anyone in my region that uses and applies it. and i’m in higher ed, where you’d think these things would show up.

  3. Personally, I think people at the upper edge of 30s are in the perfect spot to assess the GenX culture – we were not children, but teens in the 80s, and in a better place to really analyze the pop culture of the times.

    I was an “early adopter” of technology, though I didn’t have any of the tech games of the 80s because we were poor (Oh how I wanted Merlin and Simon, but toys like that were absolutely not a priority to my art/reading-minded mom). I never got into video games much, though I rocked the house at Centipede.

    I’ve been online for more than ten years, I built my own computer 6 years ago, taught myself html back before it was “cool” and it was just dorky, and am working on running a system that is all open source. But I still pale in comparison to real coders and programmers.

    Thank gawd for geocaching – I wanted a GPS unti something fierce, but I had no idea what I would do with it! Now I know…

  4. I completely forgot about Merlin! I had one, too, and it was one of my absolute favorite toys! If I remember correctly, we had a Commodore 64 and I was addicted to both Tetris and QBert.

    Though I believe I’m part of Generation X (late 30s), in 4th grade my school had a black-and-white, CRS (?) from Radio Shack, I think, on which we learned how to program some things like Basic. The “Run” function sounds somewhat familiar.

    My freshman year of college we had Macs in the computer lab that looked a lot more like the Vectrex electronic game I had at home. It, too, had a black-and-white screen and we were expected to type papers on it. No, thanks! I wouldn’t say that was the reason I dropped out, but by the time I went back to college, Windows and IE were firmly in place, and alas, the card catalogs had disappeared from the library.

  5. I didn’t have a Merlin, but my family did have a Commodore 64. Oh, how I loved that computer! I loved Jumpman, the Summer Olympics, and a handful of text-based games. Good stuff!

    As for Oregon Trail, school wouldn’t have been the same without it. Interestingly, my step-sister-in-law, who is still in high school, played it when she was in elementary school, too. It sounds a little fancier now. Maybe it’s in color?

    Thanks for the fun post!

  6. MERLIN!!! I loved my Merlin! I got online in 1993 and was into AOL chat rooms for a while. Ah, the days when AOL was the hottest thing…

  7. Ah, I remember Merlin! I did, indeed, have much fun with this game, even though I was a bit old for it (jr high/high school). While there was never a PC in our house when I lived there, we did have some early video games, including….Pong! Remember Pong? The kind that hooked up to your TV set and played a whopping 3 games – Pong, Tennis and Hockey? Of course, these were all pretty much the same game – bouncing a dot off of rectangles. My father, being an industrial designer, was able to provide us with some of the new high-tech toys he helped design.

    Another one was Boris, an electronic chess set that even provided feedback (“Interesting…” and “Are you rated?”). This fit into a nice wooden box and the pieces were placed on the board and moved manually. I still have it and play it occassionaly, but I’ve never won.

    Ah, the halcyon days of the 1970’s, when computer technology was just starting to enter our households. How quaint, simple, and charming they seem now.

  8. Hm. My tech history is a little different, since I’m probably about ten years younger than you, but we got a Mac II when I was six (spring/summer of ’88), on which I remember playing around with Mosaic and looking over my mom’s shoulder while she looked things up on Archie and Veronica and Gopher. I also remember seeing some of my mom’s colleagues using a “phone” protocol on their Vax system to chat–I was impressed.

    We never had video games, though I got pretty good at computer-based Tetris; the Mac II, with some extra RAM and an external hard drive (140MB to supplement the built-in 16MB), became my computer in high school. School-wise, we had Apple II-series computers in elementary school, and I learned some BASIC programming (and touch-typing) in 4th and 5th grades. In 6th grade, my school merged with two other local schools, and those of us in the independent accelerated math program were asked to help set up the computers in the new building.

    I didn’t really start using computers and internet for anything beyond games, research, and typing until I got to college, and I didn’t get sucked into blogging until halfway through my first year of grad school. And now I write on three blogs and have flickr and two abandoned photo sites…

    (btw, nicely appropriate captcha, seeing as I work with chicken embryos…)

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