Reflections on my road to becoming a computer nerd

Generally I would say there were about four things that really got me into computers.

  1. Information access.
  2. Word processing.
  3. Video games.
  4. Community

Growing up in an environment where your choice was the family encyclopedias and dictionary: both about as old as me; or waiting a week or two for a trip to the library to actually happen. I was somewhat fortunate in the sense I could checkout books and learn about how nuclear power or jet engines function, and not be worried what people think. Today, I’m not quite sure I’d wanna see the alarmed glares kids might get today at the stuff I read back then but I guess there aren’t that many librarians left either.

Online however made a very different set of information available than the bookstores and library could offer me. Two websites especially: the Gundam Project and the Mecha & Anime HQ. While MAHQ is still around the former went defunct before my family switched from dial up to broadbanned. As my interests exploded I found that increasingly the Internet was the way to gather information. You could go to the used bookstore and get books on Star Trek and Star Wars. You couldn’t find so much related to Mobile Suit Gundam and Macross. Hell the nearest source of anime was probably drive two hours to a Suncoast, and that usually made it both very rare and expensive for our income level.

Likewise as my interests exploded: I generally faced two problems. One is the inefficiency of handwriting all your nerdy documents. Second was how painful corrections were with a typewriter when your spelling is less than 110% of perfection. I don’t think I have even touched one since the 6th grade but correction tape integrated into a typewriter is still among my definitions of wasted time and misery. When I gave the computer a shot at these matters, what those older than I dubbed word processing; my fate was rather sealed. Because between the rapid access to information and the ease of editing text I came to spend inordinate amounts of time in front of a computers.

Once we made the transition into the Pentium 4 era: we finally had a computer worth while for gaming. Well, at least for games that didn’t come on and run from floppy diskette. Early in my childhood we had both a Tandy 1000 and a NES, so I’ve been exposed to video games in one form or another longer than I have been able to read my native language. But most of our computers in between weren’t worth much for games, which generally got dumped on consoles.

The rise of multiplayer gaming pretty much created and defined my social connections outside the meatspace, and that largely remained the only link until I began getting into unix systems and learning programming as a teenager.

Strangely today: video games are still a major point for my computer use. It was around 2007 or so where I hit the point that FreeBSD could replace my XP machines, except for the damned Direct3D gaming pickle. At this point I don’t think I would even have built my desktop if it wasn’t for Steam. My next PC will probably be a laptop and an eGPU rather than a tower.

But that’s really where things intersected with other people.

I was quite active in a few gaming circles, and as my knowledge of computers grew so did my participation in circles built around those topics. Many years later: I still have friends that I met through those circles. Well into my early twenties, I was still very active in various forums and news groups related to my interests. As time has gone on most people have generally moved in the direction of services like Facebook and the late G+, and thus so had I. Today that largely takes the form of Diaspora and the Pluspora pod.

As I reflect upon the road that lead me here: I do wonder whether that is a good or a bad trend. But I think it really owes to two facts. A lot of the social things we do with the Internet are like scraps of paper: detritus and transient. Things like G+ made the ease of integrating people a lot higher than when you had to manage many memberships and connect to dozens of systems but it never changed the fact that most of our output is pretty much digital scraps. These aren’t communities that will last longer than national governments and treasures in a museum: rather the things we post are closer to asking what some Tom, Dick, or Harry had for lunch in the 19th century. It’s all transient at the backbone but we enjoy it while we can.

On the flipside the warehouse of old data on my cold storage drive is rather easier to deal with than stacks of old handwritten and typeset papers. And more than a few of the places I’ve gone have allowed me quite a bit of ease in backing things up, hehe.