A brief history of computers | Rock Candy

Monday, October 12, 2015

A brief history of computers

Posted By and on Mon, Oct 12, 2015 at 9:15 AM


ROWE: This week on Brasher and Rowe: The first of a never-ending series about THE INTERNET. Is the Internet good or bad? Let’s start from the beginning.

BRASHER: Like Raekwon said on "36 Chambers," "Good ol' days, yeah, good ol' days, let's talk about them shits." So put on your mirror shades and throw on that CD of Pretty Hate Machine because we are gonna enter a cyber realm.

ROWE: As a dumb Millennial American, I look upon the technology of previous generations with bafflement and confusion. Did people just edit the encyclopedia in the margins? How did mouthbreathers complain about people at restaurants without Yelp? And I am very aware that future generations will look at this time in our technological era with disgust.

click to enlarge Leonardo da Vinci works on his first draft.
  • Leonardo da Vinci works on his first draft.

BRASHER: It seems like only yesterday when you could just ride mopeds with your girlfriend all day and use your modem to start a global thermonuclear war. Back in the '80s when knowing about computers made you a cool smooth guy that could impress the ladies with your hacking chops. Computers: so new, so hot! Wait, what was this fantasy world from '80s movies? Computers were never cool like that, and computer nerds were always computer nerds and none of them had girlfriends probably until they left home. I know because I walked in that world.

click to enlarge The most unrealistic thing about this movie is the relationship, not the thermonuclear war.
  • The most unrealistic thing about this movie is the relationship, not the thermonuclear war.
BRASHER: I remember one of my friends back in 1987 had a separate phone line for his dial up computer modem and me and my pals thought that was an insane luxury. This is at a time when for anyone else, to get on a modem knocked out your telephone service entirely, which you can imagine parents absolutely loved. But here was a guy with a whole phone line, just for a computer.

That this dude did not come from some rich circumstances made it even more improbable. The house was trashed with pizza boxes and dog crap everywhere, but that modem was humming. Somehow that guy and his family had their priorities straight very early.

ROWE: I always enjoy seeing how previous generations imagined what the future would look like. The ethereal white rooms and wood paneling dreams from the '70s gave birth to the grimy, hyperglobalized vision of '80s cyberpunk dystopia. The truth is somewhere else, and it involves dog mess ground into the carpet.

click to enlarge computerlove3.jpg

BRASHER
: My first experience really messing with anything like the Internet we know today was when I went off to college at Henderson State. If you ever find yourself in Arkadelphia in 1994, I guarantee all you will want to do is get the freaking hell out of Arkadelphia in 1994. So aside from Hot Springs, the early online realm was the next closest escape, because there sure wasn’t any booze around.

I used to hang out in the computer lab and hop on the Iowa State Computer Association Billboard System over something called telnet. If you are too young to remember, a Billboard System is basically like viewing a sucky all-text version of an Internet. Why Iowa State? I didn't even go there; I had never even been to Iowa. Somehow though, their BBS was massive, like 200 forum rooms. If you wanted to argue with people about central Illinois emotional hardcore bands in the mid­-'90s, the University of Iowa BBS was the place. There is no telling how much time I spent in computer labs messing with the ISCA BBS. To even get on, you had to wait in a virtual line. It could take 10 minutes just to log on, and what do you do in the meantime? There were no cell phones, nothing else interesting on the nascent Internet, so you read books, like a caveman or something. I'm amazed that I survived.

click to enlarge commandprompt.jpg

ROWE
: I’m impressed with the ability of people to get mad at each other despite graphical limitations. I started my coming of age on the Internet a few years later, using a copy of "Dave Barry in Cyberspace" as my roadmap. The goal was usually to find access to things that weren’t accessible growing up in Central Arkansas and to always stop at the Cruel Site of the Day

BRASHER: I’ve heard it said that the driving forces of technology are always war and sex. My introduction to the actual final form of the Internet was basically both. There was this one very early website (that will not be linked to, because Brasher and Rowe is for the children) where you could go to see the most grisly and graphic stuff you could imagine, really transgressive type things. It was as if "Faces of Death" was written and directed by Jim Goad but on a computer.

Going onto these early gross out websites felt secret, like doing something illegal, and it was a rush. The sites, as stupid as they may have been, definitely pushed the boundaries of where the Internet would go in an almost prescient fashion. Still, even at that point I didn’t  have a computer myself, but that was about to change.

I remember walking into a party in Fayetteville and someone was playing music on a computer that was hooked up to speakers. That was the first time I had ever seen anything like that. I was amazed, but the thing that I was so amazed with wasn’t the music, or the speakers, but the dancing laser visualization on Windows Media Player. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. I just sat there laughing for a second. It was if some remote tribal society had a Harrier Jump Jet land in the middle of the village. I watched that colorful graphic squiggle in awe for 10 straight minutes.

I realized I had to ditch my Luddite affectations and catch up on computerworld. I had completely missed Napster and AOL’s heyday by this point, which was probably bad and good, respectively. Eventually, I picked up a used Pentium III from a friend and straight Lawnmower Manned myself into the fresh world of Crackz and Warez and Pr0n and Audiogalaxy, and the rest is history. From those humble beginnings, I became the colossal technology magnate you see before you. Now it’s just global thermonuclear war and mopeds all day.

ROWE: If you have comments on your first experience on the World Wild Web, please comment below, or send us an email at brasherandrowe@gmail.com.

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