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KNOWITALL's avatar

What are your earliest memories of computer usage?

Asked by KNOWITALL (14939 points ) January 31st, 2013

I was thinking about this the other day, and I remember using computers to draw shapes in 5th grade or so, and I just turned 40 years old.
With computers being the ‘norm’ now, I thought it may be interesting to see your answers since there is such a diverse group here.

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44 Answers

janbb's avatar

I first used a computer at a job in 1985. It was an Apple 2E and it was used to produce proposals at an insurance agency.

Seek's avatar

My dad had a PC when I was a kid. I was born in late 1985. I learned how to play chess on that old thing.

My uncle is a h4×0r for reals. I learned much from him. Used to screw around with DOS when I was 3–4 years old. He’d leave the room and I’d have stuff all changed around by the time he got back. It was pretty awesome.

Since @poisonedantidote mentioned it first, I had an Atari as well. And an NES if it counts. Daddy bought it on the day it came out. I practically exited the womb into Legend of Zelda fandom.

poisonedantidote's avatar

My first memory is learning how to load Garfield the game on my Atari ST. A machine that btw, is still in working condition, unlike my crappy Dell laptop that clapped out dead after 6 months.

dabbler's avatar

Does Pong count ?
Otherwise…
Filling out a deck of mark-sense Hollerith code cards in high school in the mid ‘70s.
Language was Fortran V. The deck would get sent out to the school system’s mainframe plant for keypunch and processing and come back in a couple days. Just getting something to run at all felt like an accomplishment.
In college it seemed like a big advance to be able to keypunch the deck myself (those keypunch machines were SO LOUD!!).
First “time-share” system was at the same school, too. Type the program (PL/1) on a console then submit it to run, now ! Incredible.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Very early 1980’s. The equipment on my desk was just one piece—a heavy screen with the keyboard attached. It wasn’t a stand-alone computer; I had to connect, by telephone, to a remote mainframe. This was before modems existed. There was an item called a “coupler,” with two rubber cups for inserting a telephone handset.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@dabbler I completely forgot pong-lol I think ours were Apple’s, too. My uncle who was a Marine was the first person the family to have one, 20+ years ago, Green Screen all the way!

gailcalled's avatar

Learning Fortran in the late 1960’s and having a platoon of women in the basement who typed program code on punch cards. G*d help you if you dropped the stack. (See @dabbler) ^^^.

DrBill's avatar

When I was young, back in the stone age, we programed the computer with punch cards. It was considered a huge jump forward when the 11” floppy disk came about.

ucme's avatar

At school we did computer studies, you needed arms like popeye in order to work the huge, clunky keyboard.

dabbler's avatar

@SadieMartinPaul That telephone thing was a modem, an acoustically-coupled modem.

The early ones could transmit data at a whopping 150 BAUD (bits per second).
By the time the little box you knew as a modem came along they were up to 1500 or so, and topped out at theoretical speed of 54k BAUD (the capability of the phone line was a limiting factor), though typical was around 25k BAUD that.

In contrast a slow cable modem internet connection is around 1 Mb or 1000k bits/sec.

picante's avatar

I, too, am from an era of punch cards. The first computer with which I engaged directly was a stack of chained floppy-disk readers that had some type of rudimentary input device. This was in parallel to the introduction of “memory typewriters.”

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Main frame for jet engine performance simulation – - 1965.

Pachy's avatar

I love this question! My first experience with a computer was at an ad agency circa 1981. This big ugly thing—it may have been only a word processor—had been purchased by one of the agency partners who was kind of an early adopter, but he hadn’t been able to figure it out and nobody else wanted to have anything to do with it. I had grown up using a typewriter and was fascinated by the idea of a new way to write. It had a single drive for a platter-sized floppy, no hard drive, almost no memory, and of course everything was done from the command line. I didn’t know what any of the specs meant, but I dived in anyway and taught myself how to type and edit on it. I liked it so much that I got this partner to go with me to the store where he had bought it so I could buy one of my own. There wasn’t any brand name on it; it had been built in the shop. I got it and a dot matrix printer home and tried to get it to work but only saw a blinking cursor. I called the shop and they said, “Oh, you don’t have DOS on it, you’ll have to come back and let us install that for you.”

In the years since, I’ve owned many, many computers, both Macs and PCs. But that first one is still maybe my favorite because it’s what got me started..

downtide's avatar

I bought a Sinclair ZX Spectrum when i was 16. That was the first computer I used, though I’d seen one previously.

Shippy's avatar

Word Processing !!

Rarebear's avatar

I used an IBM mainframe to play Star Trek games in the late ‘70s.

The first computer I owned was a Coleco Adam

CWOTUS's avatar

My first “computer” use occurred when I was around four or five years old. Granted, it was totally analog and it wasn’t called ‘a computer’ (and wouldn’t be considered such today), but it was a toy that worked on the same principle of modern computing, if not the same technology and techniques.

It was a balance beam scale that had plastic numerals which could be hung from each end of the balance beam. The numerals were made in such a way that each numeral was “its value” times the weight of the #1 piece. So, for example, the #2 piece weighed twice as much as the #1 piece, the #7 piece was seven times the weight, etc.

This taught me basic addition and subtraction long before the concepts were introduced in school. I learned that the #5 + #1 pieces on one end of the beam would balance with the #6 piece at the other end, for example. I played with that thing for hour upon hour. What a great toy it was.

After that, I played with mainframe computer programming (Fortran IV) in college in the early 70s, and a Radio Shack TRS-80 (cassette tape drive, 7” B&W monitor, and about 8K of memory) in 1979–80.

dabbler's avatar

@downtide
A Sinclair was the first computer that I owned personally. It was amazing for the price at the time!
My next was an Amiga, though, it was the best desktop computer available at any price at the time but didn’t catch on.

marinelife's avatar

The magazine I worked for went from using main frames with input on Data General machines (that were shared) to a distributed PC network in the early 80s.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

In the early 80’s, when I was about 4–5, we used to visit my grandpa a few hours away. I thought he was rich because he had a home computer, haha! He taught me how to play solitaire and frogger on his neat machine.

Sunny2's avatar

I was privileged to see an early version being worked on at M.I.T. It was in a large warehouse filled with machines flipping punch cards. I had no idea what it was all about. My own personal use started with a small Mac. I loved being able to draw with it. I primarily used it as a word processor. Of course, this was before the internet was available.

bookish1's avatar

I learned about the C prompt and file directories in a computer skills class in first grade. We probably did more, but that’s all I remember.
At home, I played games on my dad’s computer and drew pictures in MS Paint. Windows 3.1 baby.
My first experience on the Internet was probably in 1995 or so. I played hearts online with strangers and chatted with them. Back when the web was a much less scary place!

chyna's avatar

My first computer at work was a TRS 80 with disks the size of record albums. We had to enter all information in DOS after dialing up to who knows where.

YARNLADY's avatar

When I was working in an office in Los Angeles ca. 1969, I coded the weekly payroll onto sheets of paper, and the data entry people cut punch cards for the computer. I then took the punch cards to the computer room, where they were fed into a giant machine that took up the whole room.

At home, we got our first desk top computer in 1980. It was an Apple II with a serial number in the low 1,000’s. My husband programmed it to show pictures and make sounds when Sonny pushed the keys.

By the time he was two years old, he could boot the computer, take out the boot disc, put in his game disc, and play games. He learned his alphabet that year.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Any of you remember the paper with all the holes at each end for printers with little tusks sticking out? Real old-school.

DominicX's avatar

I remember playing DOS games on my dad’s 25MHz computer running Windows 3.1 some time in the early ‘90s.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@DominicX Ah, the 90’s, best time of my life. I don’t remember much of them though- lol

picante's avatar

@KNOWITALL Yes, those were band printers. The first “big” computer system for which I had some responsibility at my company had a big honkin’ band printer. When the partners would give give tours of the office, they’d stop by the computer center and tell me to “make it do something.” That band printer never ceased to amaze the crowd.

Jeruba's avatar

As a young working woman I was shown a room full of IBM System 3 (S/3) machines in January of 1970. They came in red, yellow, and blue and were about the size of a refrigerator. Off I went to class to learn how to write programs for them in RPG II. The programs were written out painstakingly by hand on formatted sheets of paper and then punched into 96-column cards for loading into the computer. I did most of my own punching.

A line number was typed into the first four columns of every card so that if they got mixed up (or dropped) they could be sorted back into the correct sequence.

I picked a blue one for our office.

Speaking of sorting: when we did monthly sales analysis reporting, it took up to 8 hours to complete the sorting of customer data and print the reports. This was for something like 300 customers and 30,000 items of inventory. Nothing else could run while this was going on, so closing out the month and running reports typically involved staying until 1 or 2 in the morning.

My husband’s first home computer was a TRS-80. I resisted having anything to do with it until I was put in charge of editing a club handbook and discovered the joys of instant correction without retyping.

woodcutter's avatar

Back in the early ‘90s we got our son who was 3 or 4 the “Mario Art” for Super NES. He understood it better that I did but it was interesting making designs and stuff with it. The next time I used a real pc was maybe 2008 with a cobbled together WIN 98 our son slapped together from parts discarded from his school. That one finally died because the internet outpaced it as well as other problems and a couple weeks ago a got this Windows xp from a pawn shop. I feel like I have a Ferrari now. A Ferrari I can’t get out of first gear.

Bellatrix's avatar

In my first job I used what was probably the first IBM desktop computer. This was in the very early 1980s and I used it for word processing. In my next job I used the Apple II for both word processing and to add up our debtors list. I think I also started to put customer records on that one too although we mostly relied on a huge card index.

RandomGirl's avatar

Probably around age 5 or so (so that’d be 2001 – wow I’m young…) I really started to use the computer. I liked to play with the Paint program. I would spend hours, trying to find the perfect color. I also liked the pinball game.

At age 8 or 9 I made a program. I think it did basic calculations, but you had to have a password to use it.

answerjill's avatar

1980’s (say, ~1982–1987): We learned some simple programming in the BASIC language at school. We had a Commodore 64 at home. In school, we learned how to use the Logo “turtle” program. All of this was during elementary school.

filmfann's avatar

My math class had a few computers in it (early 70’s), and one of the students invited me to try my had at it, assuring me that nothing I do would break it.
The first thing I did was type “hello”, which, unknown to me, was the instruction to begin a complete reboot. Did I cause a mess? Oh, yeah.

RandomGirl's avatar

My dad was in a class in the late 50’s or early 60’s (he was in grade school), when he had his first experience with a computer. Their school had a monitor and a keyboard. You could tell the computer to do a math problem, and that request would go down to the capital, where the actual brains of the computer were. Every school in the state had a setup like this. When it came time for my dad’s class to go actually see the computer on a field trip, the folks running the computer center recognized them from their school name. The first thing they said to my dad’s class was, “So you’re the kids who tried to divide by zero…”

Needless to say, they had quite a reputation. Apparently they had stopped up the whole system for several days, and the staff at the computer center eventually had to unplug the computer to make it stop.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

It is comforting to know that there are others here whose first experience with working with computers involved keypunching Fortran programs and controlling input and output using JCL (Job Control Language). My first modem was acoustic with which your telephone receiver was wedged into rubber suction cups and it ran at 110 bits per second. The first computer I owned was a 4 MHz Z80A CPU with a total of 64K of memory. It ran circles around the first IBM personal computer!

Judi's avatar

Pong
I worked in a furniture store in 1979 and we had some sort of modem where we had to type in information exactly right to run credit reports. It was a pain in the ass. One tiny mistake (no backspace key) and you had to start all over!

Symbeline's avatar

There were some at school we used sometimes. A story I have is playing this game called ’‘Number Muncher’’ and getting a bunch of high scores. So when you get a high score, you write your name, and it’s on there permanently in the records listing, until someone beats your score. Number Muncher was a basic math game involving additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions, on the higher levels. You were this green dinosaur on a board filled with squares with numbers, and each board had a criteria for some simple math problem, and you had to ’‘munch’’ on all the right answers, while enemy characters chased you around. You have to think fast.
Now I’m no good at math at all, but being an avid video game fan, I got through these levels by exploiting the gameplay once I understood how it went, and using photographic memory haha. I was also pretty good at evading the Troggles, pink dinosaurs that chase you on screen while you try to figure out the problem and eat the right answers. (eat a wrong answer or get caught by a Troggle, you lose a life)

Anyways, being pretty assy, all my high score names were really offending, like FuckYouAsshole, PenisScab or FilthHoe. I don’t actually remmeber what I wrote, but along those lines. When the teacher eventually found out that I did this, I got yelled at so bad, and she said that I had to sit there after school, beat all my own high scores and replace the names with something acceptable, otherwise my dad would be charged for new copies of the game. how much were floppies worth, even back then? Apparently the game was worth 50 bucks, and there were several copies in the classroom, and none went unsoiled by me.

I still remember, the way the teacher screamed at me, she wasn’t actually suggesting I beat all the high scores, she was just pretty much saying, yeah, you can’t do this and your dad is gonna dish out for this. And you’ll get in trouble, even MOAR.

But on that day and the next, I stayed about two hours after school, and I beat EVERY single one of my high scores. I wasn’t sure at all that I could. I was supreme ruler, and beat everyone’s scores to no end before…it was like, how am I to surpass my own self, when I had so much trouble getting those scores near the end? But I fucking did it. Every single one. And then I replaced my score names with acceptable ones. Most of them were the names of characters from a show I watched, Sailormoon.

But what pisses me off to this day is that I was really bad at math in school, I had so much trouble…yet no teacher ever actually positively acknowledged my beating everybody’s high score, at a game based on a subject I was, and I’ll be honest, still am, terrible at. :/

But I DID it man!

Not the earliest computer recollection, but one of my most significant one, for me.

As for home computers, my dad once got some really ancient machine from a friend. It was one of those computers with the monitor permanently attached to it. The screen had two colors; black and orange. It had a Where in the World is Carman Sandiego video game on it, which was pretty much a geography/culture education game. I enjoyed it for a little while, but at that point I did have my own Super Nintendo, Sega Master System and TurboGrafx 16, so the computer game enjoyment was short lived. But that computer did have a printer, and I did a school project with that old thing.

mattbrowne's avatar

The Commodore PET in 1979.

Crumpet's avatar

Drawing really awful pictures on Microsoft Paint when I first started school in 1993, and also a giant robotic turtle thing, and when you put coordinates in it would move across the floor accordingly.

Seek's avatar

@Symbeline I remember Number Muncher! And Amazon Trail, which kicked oh, so much ass.

wundayatta's avatar

The Osborne I was about the size of a sewing machine. Either it or the Kaypro were the first “portable” computers. It’s screen was about 5” diagonal. It was a CPM machine that you booted off a 5¼” floppy. It cost $2000 in 1980.

My parents paid for college for me, but they also paid for that Osborne, which, arguably, was a better investment as far as job prospects were concerned. I learned word processing, spreadsheets and databases from the manual. Wordstar, Supercalc, and Dbase II I think.

I was going to be a writer, but bombed at that. So I became a quant, which has been relatively lucrative. Oh, I even did some writing at work, too, but I don’t count that, because it isn’t creative writing. Just marketing and exposition. Important, but not fulfilling.

I still have two Osbornes in my attic. I wonder what they’d fetch on Ebay these days. Maybe $300?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I owned and Osborne as well and learn so much by using it over the four or five years that I used it actively. I donated mine to a school when I was done with it.

tomygreen's avatar

windows 98 and a motocross madness demo. Well, Micosoft Pinball too.
My first games, first computer experiences,

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