Member Musing: Iris Shur

Member Musings features the reflections and thoughts of an NPC member

Computer Savvy—Then and Now

Iris Shur

Iris Shur    

Many of us “old-timers” complain about being left in the dust when it comes to new technology. I, cusping on old-timerdom, just cannot keep up anymore. When you don’t understand the commercials on TV touting this website or that new phone, you know it is game over.

But I surprise my family when I explain that it wasn’t always so. There was a time when I was a real hotshot with computers—in the “old days.”

My first encounter with pre-computers was at my job in upstate New York in the early 1960s. We had keypunched cards and a long metal rod. If you wanted to separate out people who were over 50 years old, you put the rod through a particular hole in the card, shook the cards and the ones you wanted either fell out or stayed on the rod.  Don’t ask me to remember which—this happened in computer cavemen days.

While I was employed in Boston in the late ‘60s, my office was next door to the Harvard Medical School, which announced a free class in computers. Always ready for a challenge, I signed up. We first met in one of their large amphitheaters. They had attached some electrodes to a subject to measure pulse rate, heart rate—well—some body rates. The electrodes showed the result on a TV screen next to the subject. Then they cued a very attractive woman to walk past the subject. We could all see his bodily functions respond—big time! For all of us, it was a dramatic introduction to computers.

In the early ‘70s my husband and I owned a computer dating service. I always have to explain that it was not an internet dating service. No internet existed then. We had to understand a little about computers in order to process our applications and explain what we wanted to the keypunchers. A “run” cost us thousands at the time, took days to complete and required a room-sized computer. Now it would take a few seconds and we would be able to do it ourselves.

In approximately 1983 the public school my children attended introduced computers. Being quite competitive, I could not imagine my kids knowing more about computers than I did. There were no computer courses for adults at that time, so I approached the owner of the only computer store in my town. He agreed to give me a course in the Basic computer language. I worked hard, learning to generate all kinds of number sequences. But then the owner went out of business. He gave me back all my money, a refund I thought was really nice of him. It didn’t seem that home computers were anything viable. At the time, there were almost no programs commercially available. If you wanted the computer to do something, you had to program it to do it.

Finally, in 1985 the 512K Mac came to live in my house. I remember spending a lot of time deciding between the 128K and the 512K. Mind you, I still don’t know what 128K or 512K mean. Phone calls were made to people involved in computers to determine which was the better buy for me. They all said they didn’t understand what I would do with either of them. But I bought it anyway and even attended the first Mac show in Boston at the Hynes Auditorium. It was amazing to see all the things you could do with a computer, and I was in digital heaven.

Sometime in that period of my life I took an adult education class on how to use one of the several search engines that had popped up. We had to learn how to phrase our search very carefully. Now I just go to “Google” and type in what I need any way I want and up pops the answer.

My next computer encounter was at my husband’s office in the early ‘90s when he decided to purchase an IBM clone. I developed a huge database on it with thousands of focus group participants for our business. It took me many months. A part-time employee wiped out the list one day, never to be recovered.

That was the end of my computer life at the time. I was so upset I didn’t want anything to do with them anymore.

Of course, I am writing this expose on my Toshiba laptop now. I do use an iPad as well. My phone is still Generation minus ten, however. Don’t ask me to make a spread sheet or put words in columns. I don’t seem to have patience for remembering all that stuff. Some in my family are rather upset that I don’t text. That is much too advanced for me.

This story was written to prove to people that at one time I was queen of the computer generation. Unfortunately, it is not this generation.

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