The Golden Age of Computers

It was the dawn of a new decade. Bill Clinton was in his formative years as president – still so innocent and pure. Disney had just produced what would become their most successful cartoons in history, namely DuckTales, TaleSpin, and Gummibears – oh those Gummibears, soft and… cuddly… Oh yes! Back on track – this was the 90’s and part from leading the world out from spangly jump suits making every housewife look like a turnip version of Jane Fonda it was also the dawn of the computer seeking its way out from universities and companies and finally making its way into peoples’ homes. The hardware became more affordable and now every man, woman and ch… no, kids could arguable not… afford the technologies of the closing century.

I remember my first computer experience as a child. It was when my dad brought home his first laptop from work – a Compaq LTE 486. It ran Windows 3.11 and even had some of the Entertainment Packs containing SkiFree and other games installed. SkiFree early became one of my favorite games. I loved the way it always inevitably ended – with the yeti monster more suitable for a Scooby Doo cartoon attacking and eating your precious little skier forcing you to start all over again. Oh man, this dude was scary. I’d get a mini heart attack every time he appeared on the screen and youngster me tried to avoid him every time only to become his breakfast two and a half seconds later.

The launch of Windows 3.11 and subsequently Windows 95 along with the availability of home internet sparked a revolution that’s been unprecedented since. Stores emerged where you could not only buy new computers, but also parts for upgrading existing computers. It sparked a digital revolution where everything you do in real life now could be mimicked on a screen – yes, I’m looking at you The Sims. The typewriter became even more obsolete as the editing of documents now more and more could be handled by a computer.

For a few years there Intel released it’s Pentium processor line which through an easy numbering sequence you could compare your computer statistics with the fellow next to you on the school bus. I fondly remember all the computers I had the privilege to own during the decade – all having the now famous label on its chassis. The same goes for nVidia’s GeForce series of graphics cards. The options were few, yet abundant.

Nowadays the PC market feels much more limited. Computers back then felt like organic creatures that could follow you for years. The components were robust and didn’t complain (much) when they got a little dusty. Modern computer products of today are sensitive – as if they need a psychologist every time they enter a new system just so that they don’t get their feelings hurt. The components are tinier and a chip set contains so much more today than it did back in the 1990’s.

This environment of modern computing therefore lacks in one aspect the Golden Age of Computing offered in abundance – the ability to learn and technology’s overall greater understanding of trail and error (meaning that the components wouldn’t break just because they weren’t put in exactly straight). The hardware was clunkier and that’s a good thing. As a youngster trying to learn it made it easier to understand what task each part of the chip was designed to perform.

Nowadays manufacturers try to hide as much of the chip set as possible under plastic coverings. Ever bought a new car – opened the hood – only to be met by one of those black plastic covers? Do you remember your parents cars being that way? No, and that’s because manufacturers today think that you shouldn’t be concerned about what’s under there. It’s unknown, it’s scary – just like that yeti monster in SkiFree.

That’s why the 1990’s were the Golden Age of Computers. They were clunky enough to accept rookie mistakes, they were cheap enough to enter your home, and they didn’t hide any of its components from you – and that’s why you’re interested in computers today. It’s a marvelous invention – and building one today is just as joyful albeit arguably less forgiving than it was in 1997 at the launch of Windows 98.

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