Tech Geek: Technology That Shaped My Life – Part 2.

So continuing on from yesterday today I am covering 5 more technologies that changed my life. You can read part 1 here. As I am a technophile and a total geek, technology has shaped they way I live my life and how I view the world. I know that there is a shit-ton of technology that underpins our society: electric grids, light bulbs, cars and airplanes,  and yes movable type. You wont see any of these in my article because it’s pretty much a given that these major innovations have had a major impact on how I live my life, but this article is more about how technology has contributed to my personal view of the world.

 

#6. The Samsung SPH-N200: Picture me in college (actually don’t, really it’s embarrassing) living on my own sharing a dorm phone with my roommate and trying to figure out which one of us made the 3 hour long phone call to Oklahoma city (Turns out it was a guy in our dorm who broke into our room to use the phone). Oh how I don’t miss the days of long distance. But I digress, my sophomore year in college I made the jump from land line to cellular technology and I have never gone back. My Samsung SPH-N200 was my first ever “Internet Connected” phone. With its beautiful green and black back lit screen I could check and send email, check movie times, get restaurant info from city search, and play PacMan, the latter being the most important in the decision of purchasing the phone. With the freedom of a cell phone, and the lack of long distance charges the world became  much smaller place. I was able to talk to my girlfriend at the time who lived two states away. I could check in on my family on the west coast, I could take phone calls in the middle of class and feel really important (d-bag move I know). Connectivity and freedom became a part of who I am, being able to access the people I love and the information I need when away from home became important. Many people disparage our over-connected life style these days, and I agree that perhaps we all could use a bit less of it, but that phone and all the phones that have followed it have changed my life and how I interact with people in a huge way.

#7. The CTX Cyber Notebook: With a Pentium 166MHz processor, 24 megs of ram, and a 1.6 gig hard drive this laptop cost me an entire summer wages back in high school but it was worth it. As I have said before mobility and freedom are a huge part of who I am today. I don’t work in an office, I can hardly stay still for more than an hour and sticking to a strict schedule is more of a dream than an attainable goal for me. So being able to do my computing anywhere I want is huge for me. Back in high school I got my first taste of it. But this little beauty helped me learn another lesson too, one that I wish I had ignored instead of embraced. I went to public school, an “inner city” school by Oregon standards, and I was one of perhaps 3 kids in the who school, about 1.2k students, who had his own laptop. I immediately became ostracized for it. I dared to fly my geek flag by spending my money on a laptop instead of a car, cool shoes, beer, or any of the other things that other kids were buying at the time. And I dared to bring it to school, and use it for work! It all came to a head when someone I was once “friends” with confronted me in the hall and tried to beat me up and take the computer. It ended in a draw and the laptops battery being smashed into pieces. I learned that showing my geek side was not acceptable, and that if I was to remain on the good side of my peers and friends,  I would have to leave my geek side at home. So I did, for the next 7 years I left my geekier tendencies at home, only getting to enjoy them in rare company where I felt safe. Now I’m out in the open about it and wish I had never moved to hide my self from the world. That laptop and the lesson I learned from it haunted me, and still does a little today, not all shaping is good shaping I guess.

#8. My first 14.4k modem: Holy shit! There are other people on computer out there! When I was 11 my uncle gave my grandmother a 14.4 baud modem for her PC, and being my grandmother she had no idea how to use it. So, not knowing the treasure she had been given, she passed it on to me. I had already taken apart my family computer a few times (see #1) and even installed a sound card from Creative, so I knew the inner workings of a PC. Modems though were something I had only seen in movies at that time. If I remember right War Games had come out years before and showed a young Mathew Broderick using his computer to call a military super computer to unwittingly begin World War III (sorry if I just spoiled it, deal with it). What I had learned from that movie is that with the right technology, I could connect my computer to other computers. Suddenly I had that technology and I was going to use it. My first computer and my first modem really didn’t have what I would call reach. Mostly I connected to local bulletin board systems (BSS), and downloaded lists of jokes, fun stories, and the occasional DOS based game. Just being able to share information with other people, computer to computer was amazing for me. I felt a new sense of community with the people at the other end of that 14.4kB connection. Games that utilized a modem would later come along e.g. Mech Warrior 2 (See #4) and change the whole equation, making my computer my go to entertainment source over my Nintendo. This early exposure to online communities helped me become more comfortable living a life that is half online. These days I admit that at least 50% of my existence is spent online, through social media, writing, podcasting and what not. Without this early experience I might not have been so brave to create an online persona with such gusto.

#9. My iPhone/iPad: Yeah I lumped these two together. They are pretty much the exact same device and I use them interchangeably; scheduling, email, reading, social connection, writing, etc3. I had to include these because they are the technology that I feel is currently shaping me the most. It is technology that I love, but over the past few month have become wary of. It is easier and easier to sit down anywhere and become engrossed in digital life. So many things to read, so much to create, so many people with whom to interact. Portable, fast to boot, easy to use, why not just bust them out whenever I have a free minute or two? Each free minute gets drawn out to three or four, and soon I’m twenty minutes into the future and usually behind on what ever it is I was intending to do. As I spend more and more time with my iPad/phone I must be constantly aware of the difference between the value of my productivity and the value of random information I take in, games I play, and people I connect with.

#10. My Nintendo Entertainment System: When I came up with the idea for this article the first thing I thought of was my Nintendo, and I have thought about it many times since then. The original Nintendo Entertainment System practically changed the course of my entire life. I know it sounds dramatic but growing up in a single parent family I’m pretty sure that the Nintendo kept me from getting into all kinds of trouble. It also helped to foster my love for technology. Video games that went beyond blocks and dots that represented people and object to actual distinguishable reoccurring characters. Characters with history, relationships, and distinguishable traits. Episodic adventures that made personal investment impossible to avoid. How could one not buy the new Super Mario Brothers game? If I didn’t how would they save the mushroom kingdom? How would I know what Bowser was up to, and make sure the Princess was safe? What would happen to Hyrule and Zelda without me to guide Link’s sword? Nintendo gave me games that had characters I cared about, stories I was interested in, and value I didn’t even know I perceived. When I was in the 6th grade my family’s house was broken into; the robbers took everything! Our T.V. gone, our VCR gone, cash, jewelry, even the vacuum cleaner; but the one thing they left was the Nintendo. Perhaps they didn’t know what it was, video games were very new at the time. Perhaps they thought that they would come back for it but didn’t have time. Perhaps they were thieves with hearts of gold and couldn’t bear to take a young child’s video game system. For what ever reason it was still there, and I thought that they were the stupidest burglars in the world. How could they miss the most valuable thing in the whole house? I think my mother was a bit upset at me for being happy that it was still there and not really caring about the rest of the stuff not being there. It did sink in a bit later that I couldn’t play the Nintendo until we got a new T.V. (super bummed). The Nintendo is one of my deepest gamer/geek roots, and it will always have a place in my history. I could write pages on how it influenced me, but  I have already gone too long as it is.

 

Technology has always shaped my development, but it has never defined me. There is so much more to who I am than just the gadgets and toys I have purchased and played with. But tech has help shape me in a way that I can’t ignore, and don’t want to. I am who I am, and I like what I like, Geek through and through.

 

Tech Geek Out.

 

Image by Amy Loves Yah

Tech Geek: Technology That Shaped My Life – Part 1

Photo Courtesy of "The Bode"

I was packing up my iPad the other day when I had an interesting thought, “This device has changed my life in so many ways. What other technology has altered the course of my life throughout the years? What gadgets have changed the way I developed, and grew into the person I am today?” So I decided to do two things, make a couple top ten lists, and ask the internet because it’s always fun to do that. These are not actually in any order, number 10 might be just as important as number 1, and the reverse may also be true. I’ll do 1-5 today and 6 – 10 tomorrow.

1. My first PC: I’ll come clean and admit that my mother purchased my first computer for me from the Home Shopping Network. Places like Circuit City, Fry’s, and Best Buy didn’t exist back in those days, let alone internet marketplaces like Tiger Direct. So people really didn’t know where to buy electronics from the future. I guess the Home Shopping Network looked as good as Sears at the time. Anyway my first GoldStar 286 with 256k ram and a 20mb hard drive running DOS 3.0 was the shit! On it I learned to use word processing software, run video games using DOS command lines, and program in basic. My mom loves to tell the story of when I installed my first sound card, without her knowing it. She came home to find her new computer spread out across the living room while I was still in mid installation. I’m not sure if the shock of finding out her son was a hardcore nerd or having her new $1500 computer dismantled gave her a worse shock. My first PC was a pretty big step for me into the Geek world, I’m pretty sure life would have been a bit different if I had never gotten it.

2. The Commodore 64: Growing up my family had an Atari 2800 and ColecoVision, but my grandmother had a Commodore 64, with disk drives! It didn’t rely on the TV to run programs, and it had more than just games. For little 7 year old me it was the first time that I realized how interactive computers really could be. My cousin loved to make copies of games and programs and mail them to me. When I learned how to do the same my poor grandmother couldn’t pry me off of it. She had a color dot-matrix printer and printing software. I made banners, and greeting cards, and all sorts of random crap. The Commodore introduced me to a world of computers that responded to commands, and could do more than run cartridges with video games on them.

3. The Velo 1: Back in the day I had the most awesome mom any kid could want. We had a candy cupboard, a trampoline, and one Christmas when I was in the 8th grade, she got me a Velo 1. The Velo 5 had already come out when I got my Velo 1 but I didn’t care, I was the only 8th grade kid with his own hand held computer. It really wasn’t anything more than a glorified pocket scheduler with a seriously cut down version of Windows 95 on it, but it imprinted on me one thing: technology could be both small and awesome! When I used my Velo 1 in class I felt like James fucking Bond with one of his marvelous gadgets, saving the world by keeping track of my homework due dates. Four megabits of memory, a black and green screen and a 14.4k modem made me fall in love with tiny tech.

4. The first ATI “All in Wonder” video card: Mech Warrior 2 was my game back in 1995. I was a member of a ranked team over at the now defunct Mech Warrior 2 Registry, and I could tear it up in my Madcat with 2 sets of LRM20s and a smattering of small and medium pulse lasers. To this day I still think of Mech Warrior when people mention MW2 (Modern Warfare 2 be damned!) Nothing could have increased the amount of love I carried for that game. Nothing, that is, except a brand spankin’ new ATI “All in wonder” video card with 4mb of dedicated video ram. It came with an “Enhanced” version of Mech Warrior 2 that was jaw-droppingly beautiful! Clouds moving through the sky filled with multiple hues of blue. Reflections in the mech’s cockpit windows and the glass buildings in the cities. This experience with the “enhanced” version helped me realized how much beauty could add value to a video game. Many people deride beautiful games for their lack of game play, but when a game gets the right mix of beauty, story, and playability magic happens.

5. The Sony PSP: I will admit that I bought fewer than 20 games for my Sony PSP, and I only owned about 5 movies on UMD (Universal Media Disk). But while the Velo 1 made me fall in love with small electronics the PSP made them look damn sexy! A portable device that played good looking videos games, had DVD quality movies on disk and allowed for the download of digital video, played MP3, could view images, and connected to the internet all packaged in a sexy black case that almost fit in my pocket. For me the PSP made me believe that portable gaming is viable, sexy, and can be packaged in a way that offered more than just game play.

There you go, 1-5 done. I’m sure some of these might make sense to many of you, one or two of them might not. Feel free to leave a comment with one or more piece of technology that has helped to shape who you are and how you see the world.

Tech Geek Out