My family were early adopters of microcomputers because my father is a math professor at Cornell. (For you CS people, his name is in the sophomore textbooks, since he developed one of the fundamental automata theory theorems.) So I started playing around with an IBM PC in 1982, when I was six, when it was first released and my father got one; and with a Macintosh in 1984 when it was released.
At the time my father still hand-wrote his math papers and handed them to secretaries to type on special Selectric typewriters. He had started using email to communicate with colleagues, but he had to go into his office, to a special terminal, to send it, and he printed email out at the office and carried it home. So much more often he’d be making long-distance phone calls to work collaborators. Long-distance charges are something I do not miss.
The computers came with very little in the way of software, but the IBM PC did come with a technical manual and a copy of BASIC, with a full manual. So my introduction was learning to program in BASIC. (
BASICA, for those who remember) That’s what there was for entertainment. I took to it like a duck to water.
Eventually I got a copy of Zork and some other Infocom games. Once I got the Macintosh, I fooled around with MacPaint. I learned to type with one of the typing programs on the PC, and learned to use a mouse with the Macintosh.
I was one of the first kids in school to submit word-processed homework; most homework was still done by hand by most students. They still tried to teach us cursive, which was already fairly pointless by then, an interesting example of obsolete technology… I ended up having pretty good printed handwriting and terrible cursive.
In those days, I could only use the computer when my parents weren’t using it. So I learned to write code on paper, with a pencil, and debug it by hand before ever typing it in to the computer. It’s good disclipine, FYI – I am a very good debugger. I also learned to comment my code the hard way – with pencil annotations on a printout. I audited the assembly language course my mother was teaching while I was in elementary school. I learned Prolog and Pascal before I was ten.
Like almost everyone in IT, I don’t trust computers because I know how they work. I got sick of Microsoft breaking things in the early 1990s (they effectively invented email viruses and macro viruses, among other criminal activities done in pursuit of an illegal monopoly), and sick of Apple breaking things in the mid-1990s (due to their well-known “we don’t want you to edit anything” attitude), and became a free software advocate around then.
I like technology when it does what I want it to. And when it doesn’t, I’ve got no tolerance for it: I make it do what I want or I toss it. So sometimes I’m an early adopter, and sometimes I’m a never-adopter. I got an electric car as soon as I could, because gas engines are crap. By contrast I still think cellphones are pretty crap (though they’re almost getting usable now), so I still have my landline. I don’t like to be reachable all the time, so I’m not. I can do touchscreen stuff, but I don’t like it for most purposes.
I have a bunch of muscle issues, and when laptops came in I found them non-ergonomic. So I still have a desktop computer (a “workstation”, they call it now). I don’t compromise: I get the newest thing if it works better for me, and if the older thing works for me better, I stubbornly insist on keeping it.