I went through High School in the 70s in Los Alamos NM, lots of computer-nerdy classmates and the expectation that as another nerdy science-fiction / science fan I’d like them too. The computers we had had no screens. Yeah, no screens, period. What they called “terminals” looked like freaking typewriters. You would type instructions to the computer and it would type back to you on the paper. Arcane as hell. I didn’t take to them.
For reasons I’ll skip, I was entering my undergraduate career in college in the mid-80s and in my sophomore year a professor told us to rise from our seats & follow her to the school’s computer lab. I was sure this was not going to go well.
In front of each seat was a little boxlike thing with a screen and a keyboard and a tiny rectangular boxy doohickey off to the keyboard’s right. As we filed in, we were each handed a thin rectangular piece of plastic with a metal thingamabobbie of some sort attached to it. I took my piece of plastic and sat down with a sigh. Get on with it. We were instructed to hold our piece of plastic, a “disk”, like so, with the metal part at the top, and push it into the slot and wait. I did, and it slid in with a thunk and the funny box —— the computer, or so I gathered —— began making squonky squonk squonk noises. On the bezel it said “Macintosh”. There was a multi colored logo of an apple next to it. My computer eventually quit squonking at me and the guy at the front conducting the session asked if everyone say the same thing on their screen, a rectangle at the upper left and a trash can down at lower left. I did. Everyone else did. OK. Now we were to reach for the little boxy thing next to the keyboard, he called it a “mouse”, and when we moved it the arrow on the screen would move. Yeah, with you so far. Mine does that. OK we were to move the pointy arrow so it was on top of the rectangle thingie at the upper left. Then there is a button the mouse, we were to click the button twice, very quickly, and if we did it correctly the screen would change, a “window” would open, whatever the heck that meant. I pushed the button twice very quickly as he had said and yes a grey square thingie showed up on screen with things written inside it. If I had been using my Smith-Corona word processor I’d be typing papers already. I wasn’t impressed. And some folks had not had the grey “window” thingie open on their screen so he had to walk around and help them with clicking the button on the mouse.
Finally everyone had their “window” open. He said to look in the window and find something called “MacWrite” and put the pointy arrow on top of it and double-click it again. Click it twice rapidly like we had before. I did. Everything on screen disappeared and the computer make more squonky squonky squonk noises for awhile. Then a new screen appeared. It had a ruler at the top and the rest of the screen was white. The ETC guy said this was how we would write papers. We would do everything he had walked us through doing, each time, and then when we had gotten to this point we would write our papers. He said to write something, anything. I wrote “I hate computers”. He said use the mouse and move the pointy arrow up to the upper left where the word “File” is and click and hold and a menu would drop down. I did that and saw what he meant. I had to keep holding the mouse button down to keep the menu down. It had a lot of stuff in it like “New”, “Open”, Save", “Save As”, and “Quit”. He said to go to “Save”, meaning slide the arrow down by using the mouse and then let go when the mouse arrow was aimed at “Save”. I did that and other stuff popped up in front of what was formerly on screen. It said “File Name” and there was a blinking thing just like the blinking thing that had been on the screen where I had written “I hate computers”. He said “OK, now give your document a title”. So I wrote “Introduction to Computer Hating”. He said now move the mouse arrow to the oval button that says “OK”. Yes, I saw that. Now click. I clicked. Squonky squonk squonk squonk squonk squonky squonk. It went back to the screen where I had written “I hate computers”. He said “Your document is now saved. You can quit and shut down the computer and take your disk with you and that document is stored on the disk. And you can open it later and work on it some more.” I understood what he meant from my experience with the Smith Corona typewriter. It was where I could retrieve it later, and it was on this plastic thingie he called a disk. OK so far a lot like the Smith Corona. I could do this. It was more steps to get started but I could do this. So he walked us through quitting out of MacWrite and then shutting down the computer and it spat out the plastic disk and then he had us stick it back in and wait (squonky squonk squonk squonk squonk) for it to “boot up” and then reopen our document and yes it was all right there.
The screen showed so much more than the little Smith Corona strip; I could see entire paragraphs in front of me. He showed us how to print and had us go pick up our printouts at the printout window. Then he had us change FONTS. The typeface changed from one appearance to another. It could do all these typefaces. There were SIX of them! Not only that but they had different SIZES and you could make any given font be boldface, italic, underline…wow! OK, I could not do that with the Smith Corona. But… I raised my hand. Yes? I asked if this thing could cut and paste, because my Smith Corona typewrite let me cut and paste. i could move a sentence or phrase from one place to antother. He nodded approvingly. “You are getting into the power features now!” He showed me how to use the mouse to “highlight” some text and then go to the Edit menu and select “Cut”. Then click the mouse button where I wanted to move it to and go to the Edit menu again and pick “Paste”. I glanced up. Class period was over and most of the other students, and the professor, had left. I stayed a little longer. “How about if I want to indent?” He showed me how to use the ruler. It had margin markers. He showed me how to insert a new ruler and everything under that ruler point was affected by where I put the margin markers. I made an indented paragraph and then after that made some more sentences that went back to the original settings. I saved, quit out of MacWrite, went to the Special menu and picked Shut Down has he had told us, and the computer spat out the disk. I slid over to the next computer over and stuck in my disk. (Squonky squonk squonk…) I opened my document “Introduction to Computer Hating”. It was all right there. All the important stuff was on this plastic disk. I could write anything I wanted and take it with me in my shirt pocket. Keep it in my dorm room. Come back and edit it later. They had printers behind the front desk counter, and the printing was incredible; they were called “laser printers” and the pages looked like professional publications. Yeah. Maybe I didn’t hate computers so much after all.