How did you learn to use a computer?

I work at a job where people can send information to us via computer. That is far more reliable than sending us info by the mail. Stuff gets lost!

Unfortunately, I’m running into people younger than me (I’m in my thirties) who tell me they’re not computer-literate. This is weird to me. I assumed everyone my age or younger was computer-literate because I had learned how to use a computer in school, but maybe I was just lucky.

In the 1990s, this is how my class was taught to use computers in junior high public school: the teacher put us in a room of Macintoshes (the computer lab) and just left us alone* for half an hour. They came back and we were all playing video games. (I had a Commodore 64, but that didn’t really teach me anything about using a Macintosh for serious work.) The more computer-literate students taught the less computer-literate students what to do. A GUI is really easy to learn, after all.

*That’s my recollection. I suspect the teacher actually remained there, due to health and safety regulations, but didn’t do anything to teach us.

Afterward I fought for a while to get my hands on a PC (as in convinced my family one was necessary). I got a cheap Windows 3.x computer that didn’t even have a CD drive, plus a faint dot matrix printer, and immediately started using that to write school reports, etc. I didn’t have internet access until adulthood.

More recently, I found out teenagers going to a public school where I live have to pick their courses online… and their parents have to sign off on it. (When I was a kid, the kids chose their own courses without any sort of parental guidance, and of course this was all done on paper. At least I don’t recall requiring any parental guidance.)

So I guess my questions are:

About how old are you?

How did you learn to use a computer? Was it through school or otherwise?

Is it weird that I’m dealing with people younger than me who are less computer-literate than me? I’m not a computer programmer and don’t consider myself more computer-literate than average for a Canadian. Younger people probably had more opportunities to use a computer than I did as a kid.

57, first computer in mid-1999-Win98SE
Windows 98 for Dummies.

I’m early 40’s. I just always had them around growing up. Both my parents were engineers. I had a ti99 way way back in the day, but then my dad used to bring home the original Compaq from the office every weekend for me to play with. The lil’ green or amber screen, two 5.25 floppy drives, and tons of infocom games. It’s how I learned to type/spell/use computers.

I’m 28. I mostly learned at home, from my mom (who was the main user of our computer) and from figuring things out on my own. I think we got our first computer when I was in kindergarten.

Computer education in school was mostly very basic stuff like how to press the print button and how to type. I think in third or fourth grade, they had us set up free email accounts (that’s still my junkmail account, actually), but that ended quickly and email was eventually forbidden. In any case, it never went very far and wasn’t required past 8th grade. In high school, some basics were assumed, like that we’d be able to type something up or do some basic searching, but no formal education was required.

If I had been born into a less privileged household, it’s very possible that I would have made it to adulthood with only the very limited experience from elementary and middle school. Even that was at a “good” school district that had money to provide even that level of education. I remember that in elementary school, all the talk was how we were the first school district in the area to have so many computers for students to use. And this was at what might have been the peak of needing to use an actual traditional computer. Smartphones hadn’t taken over a lot of the casual use yet.

In my 50’s, first computer use was in school in the mid to late 1970’s. I should note, however, that this pre-dated the PC as we know it. Computer access was by a repurposed teletype machine that did everything in text or ASCII graphics, no screen, no CRT, and we used terminals that interacted with a big mainframe via telephone over a modem the size of a shoebox. If I recall, the “fast” speed was 400 baud, which is basically 400 bits per second.

You had to learn about basic programming because there were no off-the-shelf software packages. You had to type in any new programs you wanted to use, command by command. It was pretty primitive by today’s standards.

Older, earlier, and just stumbled around until I found Mac for Dummies.

49, and I was pretty young. I don’t know what kind of terminals they were, but I started with ones that used ticker tape of some kind. I thought they were pretty neat, so I played around with those. I was probably about 6 or so? From there, I progressed to using newer terminals at the school where my dad worked. Then an early Apple at home. I started coding in Basic (D&D character generator was my first project!) and etc and etc.

This boggles my mind! Dont these people know that computers have… PORN ? :slight_smile:

More seriously–what do you mean when you say “computer literate”?
Are these people truly unable to use a computer at all?
They never use email? Never watch a youtube video?

Or do you mean that they only know the very basics, but not enough to do specific tasks at your work?

For example, I often tell people that I am computer illiterate.
Because I dont know how to upload a video from my phone to youtube.
And I don’t know how to download a video from youtube to my home computer.
And I don’t have the slightest idea how to submit an article to wikipedia.
I don’t even know how to set up email lists.(because I have no need to.)

  1. Started with a 8088. 5 1/4 inch floppy, no HD. Eventually we got a 20 megabyte (!!!) hard drive. Played old games, eventually parents locked out Leisure Suit Larry, so I learned DOS to compensate. Upgraded to 286 (I think; skipped one generation, pretty sure 386 I didn’t have), them 486, Pentium, jumped to AMD for a few generations then back to i5.

Internet started with telnet into local library for free using Gopher. Eventually got dial-up, Dad was way to cheap to pay for DSL/Cable or a second phone line for a long time so interneting involved blocking voice calls.

School involved teaching me stuff I already knew, mostly Apple IIE and later black and white Macintoshes. Mostly Oregon Trail, Number Munchers, and typing programs. Basically zero instruction that was useful, I learned everything myself.

I learned in the late 80’s using a company laptop. The purpose of the laptop involved estimate preparation but also provided internet access which I gained through AOL.

It was ideal to learn both the functions and limits of the computer because if I screwed up the laptop, the company provided a replacement. I became fearless with an attitude of, “I wonder what would happen if I did this?” I probably went through 4 or 5 laptops over an 18 month period but I certainly learned a great deal.

First computer I ever saw was way back when I was at school in the late 50s. It was huge and noisy and full of flashing lights. The noise was from the fans they needed to keep all those valves cool. I had an uncle who was a senior naval officer and spent one summer staying at their house. He took me to Cambridge where someone showed me how you could write a simple program (in FORTRAN?) They had to write programs on paper and book time slots on the computer to compile them; sometimes they would get a slot at 4am, but that didn’t matter.
Nothing then until the 80s when I bought a ZX spectrum and played with it - Having a tiny memory and trying to store data on a cassette tape was very frustrating and I pretty much gave up, until I got a PC at work and started using it seriously. In the 90s I bought a PC to get on the internet - dial-up then and it took all night to d/l a single picture.

When I was little we had an Atari 400. Then later an IBM PC/XT. School had a computer room of Commodore PETs which were replaced with C64s.

Moderator Action

Since this is polling for personal experiences, let’s move this to IMHO (from GQ).

The latter.

Some of the people I deal with (customers) are very poor, and probably never could afford a computer as a kid. (I grew up poor, but fortunately not so poor that I couldn’t get my hands on a really cheap computer.) Many could not afford internet access.

The tasks I’m talking about are the equivalent of online banking or shopping. If you can create an Amazon account you could do the required work.

While very few of the customers have a high level of education I’m positive they almost all have high school diplomas, or at least grade 10 (you can’t drop out of school in most Canadian provinces until you turn 16) so I figured they would have learned the basics there. But if someone hasn’t touched a computer since the decade they left high school, maybe they would have lost their computer literacy. And if they never had a computer of their own, they may not have been able to pick up those self-taught computer skills most of us seem to have picked up.

Age 44.

IIRC the first time I touched a computer was in the 5th grade, when we were given maybe a half-hour with some Apple-II series computers and a program called “Apple Presents Apple.” I had little more contact with computers in school until high school, when it was the same damn Apple IIs for a half-year of BASIC programming (the other half was touch-typing, and the two classes swapped with each other. And I was a library aide and one of my jobs included entering book checkouts and returns into a database on one of the Apple II series computers.)

Maybe a year or two after the 5th grade is when I got my first computer at home, and I had a variety of them–a Radio Shack Color Computer 2 was the only one bought new as a Christmas present, but I found others used at various times at a local flea market, including a Texas Instruments TI-994A, a Timex-Sinclair 1000, a Commodore +4, Commodore 16, and Commodore 64. I programmed them in BASIC (long before that high school class) using the various user manuals and trial and error. I once had one of the cassette-drive adapters to save programs, but it wasn’t very reliable so the way I saved programs I created was by writing them down in a notebook and re keying them when I wanted to use them again.

The first “decent” computer I owned I bought around my first year in college, and it was a used Commodore 500 (with two floppy drives, a 7-color dot matrix printer, and a “scanner” that consisted of a black and white vacuum tube security camera with a color filter in front of the lens–you rotated it by hand for each of red, blue, and green passes.) Several months after that I had a bit of a windfall and was able to buy my first Wintel machine, a 486 with 4 MB of RAM and a 170 MB HD. (Total cost after I added a sound card and CD-ROM was around $1400.)

(BTW, throughout my college years, some of the instructors continued to use Apple II series computers, a full 12 years after I first encountered them.)

I’m 51.

When I was in grade school, someone brought a small computer in. I have no idea what this machine was and I have never been able to identify it since. It was about the size of a small to medium sized microwave oven. It had a numeric keypad on one side, and a slot for a magnetic card that looked something like a thin credit card. Either on top or on the other side near the top (cant’ remember) it had a punch card reader. You could program it with punch cards, or you could punch the instructions in using the keypad, and you could save programs to the magnetic card. It had a cash register style printer, just a small thin strip of paper.

If anyone can identify this thing, I’d appreciate it.

When I was in jr. high school, our science teacher went out with his own money and bought a TRS-80 Model 1. He set it up in an unused room at the school and a small group of us got to play around with it. Our entire instruction on how to use it was basically “there’s the manual, good luck”. We would tinker around with it and would share notes with what we figured out. Over the next few years we basically developed the school’s computer classes.

When I was in high school I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas one year. I had already taught myself Basic and a bit of Assembly from the TRS-80 and really learned a lot more about Assembly on the C64 (Basic was very limited, if you really wanted to make the thing do stuff you needed to jump to Assembly code). I also got to play around with some Commodore Pets and a Honywell 64 Mainframe with some summer classes.

In college I played around with the Apple II (which was a bit dated by then) and I had a Commodore 128. I also learned a lot of stuff on the school’s Vax 11/780 cluster and took my first formal Assembly classes on PDP-11 clones (Digital Pro 350 - it could run as a Vax or a PDP depending on how you booted it).

After college I transitioned to PCs.

Oh, and one other thing I’m reminded of–back when I was in high-school, there was a system where you could research courses available at (in-state only IIRC) colleges. It was a teletype with an acoustic coupler modem and a box of track-feed paper.

A one-hour demonstration of the Atari ST GUI by the tech guy at my father’s school was enough to prepare me for all user-level tasks. Early 90s, I was 10 or 11.

Mid 50s. My father was in “data automation” which is what computer science was called by the DoD in those days. I knew about computers since forever. My father would use punch cards for note paper.

The first computer I actually touched would have been in junior high? Kids could get free accounts at the local university. I didn’t do much with it. My first computer class was in 11th grade in the late 70s. We had an acoustic coupler to connect to the mainframe. Don’t remember the model.

Our family had an Atari 400 or 800 when it first came out.

My friend had one of the original Macintosh computer in late '84 or early '85 and I quickly went all Mac until 2000 when I changed jobs and was required to learn Windows.

As a EE, we were required to study BASIC, FORTRAN, and assembly language.

I studied the Macintosh Bible quite rigorously and knew the Mac inside and out, although I haven’t touched it for 17 years now so it’s obviously dated. I never got as interested in Windows.

I’m 63. In 1973, I took an introductory programming class in FORTRAN IV - that was my first computer experience. In the mid-70s, I took another FORTRAN class as part of my engineering curriculum - ah, the joys of punch cards!! The university was just getting individual terminals, too, but they were mostly used by the computer science majors. When I got my first engineering job, I did CADD work on a Computervision mainframe system, and eventually, they switched to AutoCAD on PCs.

In the mid-80s - my husband and I bought a Commodore 64 - our first home computer. I honestly don’t remember much about it. Eventually, we got a PC at home - the first in a series. Now we have 2 PCs and 2 laptops for 2 people, except when one of the cats sits on my keyboard.