My first encounter with PC has been in 1999, less than 10 minutes of Need For Speed 1 running in DOS. Visuals were so bad, you could barely recognize a car. I can’t remember much about that experience anymore, only that I was hooked to strange new medium. Later on, my parents brought home old PC that can run DOS and even Windows 95, if you know how to start it. It did not support videos or music, so we primarily edited and read documents. And then there was Flight Simulator. I never managed to land a plane. Then later come Pentium III and Windows XP days. There was no tech support of any kind, if something went wrong it was on you. Since neither you nor anyone around had a faintest idea what programs are, sure way to fix anything was to re-install it. For a long time, as a kid, I marvelled what programs really are, but nobody could give me an answer. My grandma insisted “all sufficiently advanced technology is from aliens”, but I did not take that for an answer. Only in highschool, where I got in depth programming course in Pascal and bare C, I started to grasp what programs truly are. Back to fixing your PC, if you could not do it by yourself, you would typically call a friend — like me — who would fix it for you. In my first PC you could not do it directly, since I did not have disk driver and Windows was on CD. You had to first install CD drivers from floppy disks from DOS and then use CDs themselves. Whole procedure could easily took whole evening stretching to late night hours. For a long time that was the way to install Windows, although procedure become a bit faster and easier with USB sticks in late 2000s. It was a pre-internet era. It had unique cyberpunk charm.
With time, people started to join internet, but mostly it was local city-net — which is like internet, but only among PCs in your city, where all websites were pirated and run on some dudes PC in basement, hard to imagine, I know — but speeds were very low. It would take you days to download even bad video-quality movie and you would not know if it is any good until you finish downloading — often it was bad. Then it was hard to find where to get the movie in the first place. There was no famous rating websites like IMDB, no Youtube reviews, no Youtube at all, no good non-english search engines. Global — English speaking — internet was even darker forest to go. It was always there, you knew about it, but it was a place you don’t ever venture to. There was no social networks yet either, at least in my part of the world. You could send an e-mail or message in IRC, but there is no-one you can send it too. Most of your friends were not in internet yet, they were in different city, or same city but different local city-net — crazy stuff — or don’t even have PC. Despite of all that, we got games, we got movies, and music, and books, and so much more. Sometimes, I think, those days we got even more quality content than we do now. Getting new movie back then was very social, intimate experience. You would typically invite your friends over, got some tea and hand-to-hand exchange CDs with best movies, games, music, books. You would also share software, OS and tools. And, of course, you would discuss what you like and why, which software is good and which one is not, you would pick what fits your interest. It is hard now to express excitement you wold got that evening, with your PC full of new shiny things, unexplored, but good. You would spend whole evening sharing joy with your family watching new movies one after another. In coming days you would try games and all the rest. Through this process, you would form your own opinion and in next time you see friends, now you would be sharing all the good stuff. You see, this process creates multiple hops of filtering. Filtering done by people you respect. Filtering done honestly, since everyone tried what they recommend. You would get best movies, best music, best books. True, it is hard to find something very specific or something that will stand out. True, if will take long time for content to reach you, but, looking at information overloaded channels today, maybe it was a good thing. Neither you would stare to the same content — one friend likes rap, other likes instrumental. People are different, each with different filters. Importantly, this process gives one another reason to be social and human to each other. It formed bonds. In that era information was flowing so organically. I miss it.
Looking further in the past, other interesting era is of written letters. Long delivery times and limitations of format must made people to form better messages. You would pay extra attention to grammar, words, style, punctuation, rhythm. You don’t just write letter, you draw pictures in minds of your readers. You leverage their mental capacities to bring your story to life. If people write, read, do poetry, and live with fewer distractions, then power of imagination should be as vivid as IMAX. You have plenty of time, you will fully form your ideas and say everything there is too say. Besides of composing, it takes a considerable effort to send a letter. You would need to go to a post office, pay for it, fill out the address, and give this cherished work to strangers. What if there is a mistake? How did it sound? Note, you don’t have a second copy and you can’t make one. Chances are, you will read your message again and again before it departs. And right there, you will fix more mistakes. I doubt people put as much care to their correspondence. Similarly, for a long while, until only recently, photos have been very rare. You would not keep bad photos. Instead, you would have an album of carefully curated few dozen best ones. You could not grow your album too much, because these things were bulky and heavy. Now, you can keep tens of thousands of photos on your iPhone and hundreds of thousands in the cloud. But does anyone need to see that Starbucks shmuffle-muffle? I have a few old photos of my family from early 20th century. I would never know what their life was like, and nobody would ever know. Photos are black-and-white, with noise, burned edges, some dirt, and a couple of coffee spills. It must have been hard to preserve them through generations, two world wars, local wars, persecutions, migrations, personal changes — so much changed, yet this single piece was passed on. I look at the people on the other side of photographs and think what their life was like. Most of the tech today does not encourage high level of attention and care to your content. It becomes zero-cost, short, non-unique, one-time, disposable. Kind of technology induced complacency.
What is special of both cases, is that environment was at different technological levels, yet each was rich in its own ways. You can sense how world is changing right bellow your feet. Truly exciting times. 🌏