Evolution in Three Parts

Like most of you, I’m from that awkward generation between people who grew up without computers and those whose thumbs are changing shape due to texting.


My office was proud to show off the Xerox 860, the ultimate in word processors.

I remember how excited we were at work to get our first word processor, a Xerox 860. We even hired a carpenter to build a special cabinet for it, to protect it from dust. It took up as much room as a small freezer. People came from other offices to look at it. I’m surprised we didn’t genuflect as we passed the thing.

My first office computer was an Apple IIe. Those two drives under the screen? For 5-inch floppies.


This was before Windows, when everything was DOS. You know when you restart your computer after it crashes and there’s a black screen with white letters and a blinking cursor, and you can only use the arrow and “Enter” keys to navigate because your mouse doesn’t work? That’s pretty much DOS. Try writing disciplinary memoranda on that sucker.

I’ve come a long way. Before they invented blogs, I built my own website using Dreamweaver. That was about ten years ago and I still have a headache.

When I first started using email, I was a little annoyed that a lot of my contemporaries weren’t. These are women who, like me, worked with IBM Selectrics and rotary-dial phones. At the time, a lot of them still shared an email address with their husbands. Something cute like Two4theRoad@BigFatRV.com. Or they got their email through the corporate server, which wasn’t accessible at home. Since they didn’t have a computer.

My kids, all Gen X, don’t check their email very often. Like it’s painful for them, due to the time and effort it takes. Much less tedious to text.

I joined Facebook three years ago. Seems like a lot longer. Now I’m addicted. It’s the first place I go in the morning, before email or news, and I check it throughout the day. There are a couple of groups I belong to – okay, ten or twelve – but one, GenFab, is like insanely active on FB. And I’m afraid if I don’t check in, I’ll miss something important. Like pictures of their dumbest outfits from the eighties, or what sex toys are hot now for boomer women. Weird how things change. Today they’re debating whether using “#FF” on Twitter is relevant anymore, or if it’s basically a scam. And if not, what is the etiquette that would accrue thereto?

You can only shake your head.

But technology has really enriched my life. My mother, who is 87 and has lived without it, is deprived. I’m not trying to be funny. She has a curious mind and if she were a few years younger, would be Googling all day long. About a year ago, I tried to show her how to use the internet, but I came pretty close to doing more harm than good. She got discouraged, and that tore me up. But that was before her cataract surgery. Maybe I should try again.

Still, sometimes my head hurts. I was born too soon. I was in my thirties by the time all this tech-stuff started coming out.


Early laptop. Really.

I remember bringing my first personal computer, a DOS laptop, to a union negotiation at the behest of my boss, the chief negotiator for Management. He intimidated Labor by setting it on the table between the two sides, turning it on (so it beeped), and frowning intently at the screen. Labor was nervous, but looking back on it now, I think we must have looked like monkeys with forks.



  1. says

    I am just identifying all over the place here, Lynne. I’m the daughter of an engineer and have always had a love of whatever new thing there is to play with. I got my first computer in 1983 or 84, an IBM-PC that I chose because I knew that IBM was a reliable brand and they wouldn’t sell me something that wouldn’t work for a long time. Ha! and double ha!

  2. says

    I relate to the techno headache, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, I fake my way through Twitter trying to sound kitschy or smart or taking the easy way out and retweeting someones else’s brilliance, I am still working out the bugs in my blog site and I motivate myself by remembering an article I read that said learning new computer skills reduces the chance of alzheimers.

  3. says

    Fascinating glimpse into how far we’ve come, Lynne! My mom is one of the 80-somethings who won’t touch a computer, sad to say. I’ve tried to help her, so has Domer, so has my sister. She’s even taken a class at the local college and at the library. Still, she’s too afraid to venture into the online world, though she’s interested in all the happenings there. If you get your mom computing, do share how, okay?!

    • says

      Wow, Debbie, another family coincidence, Sis! I asked her about it last night and she didn’t give me the brush-off. We live in a 55+ community where the clubhouse has a bank of computers. I keep telling her this is the BEST setup! Because no creeps can follow her home, and if she “blows something up” (I think she thinks this might happen) it won’t be her own personal computer! I’ll let you know.

  4. says

    Well, when we first started using computers, the prevailing operating system was CP/M, which I believe predates even DOS! We had an ancient KayPro II, which cost something like $10,000…in 1984 currency. :)
    I think one of the main benefits of the “information superhighway” (remember when they used to call it that?) is that it has forced many of us to expand our minds and our horizons–though it also plays hell with my attention deficit disorder, as I find myself getting so distracted that I forget what the heck I’m supposed to be doing in the first place.

    As for GenFab…well, they’re the best. Fascinating, challenging, supportive, funny–everything we bloggers of a certain age could ask for in an online community. Thanks for this post, Lynne!


  5. says

    Oh my gosh, Lynne…you brought back the memories. But you were so far ahead of the game compared to me. I remember pecking away at the various versions of the old typewriters from manual to electronic. I am still struggling to get my head around texting, Twittering and all the rest. Your GenFab facebook group sounds intriguing…how does one join?

  6. Joan Winnek says

    My first computer, bought in 1982? was an Apple 2e with 512K memory, no mouse, and Applewriter had to be memorized. I was so glad no to have to learn WordPerfect. We’ve had four macs since. Each time the full package including printer has cost about $2000. Now I couldn’t live without my iPad and iPhone.

    • says

      Joan, isn’t that the truth!? I remember the 512K feature. It was huge at the time! The tool that slays me now is my Android phone. At some point, phones just plain became mobile computers. I love it, esp. that I can leave my Kindle at home and, if I’m stuck in a line somewhere (e.g. doctor’s office) continue reading the book on my Kindle at the same place where I left off. Amazing.

  7. says

    I learned to type in high school on a manual typewriter that didn’t have any labels for the keys so we wouldn’t cheat. My final test score was 80wpm. After graduating from high school, I bought myself an IBM Selectric and typed other students’ papers to pay my way through college (something nobody does anymore since everyone has their own computer).

    Years ago when I started meeting people online other people thought I was insane (and very likely to end up stalked and murdered by all the weirdos out there). I have met hundreds of wonderful people and have yet to be murdered by anyone.

    GenFab is fantastic. It is the community I dreamed I could be a part of. I’m glad you are there. I loved this walk down technological memory lane. My mother passed away a couple of years ago, but I wish she’d had a blog. She had so much to say that is lost now. I tried to encourage her, but she just couldn’t seem to grasp it. She was bright as could be, but there was some block that she couldn’t/wouldn’t push through. It’s my loss.

    • says

      Oh, Chloe. Everything you say touches me. I hardly know where to start. Only know that I feel blessed to be a part of this community of sisters, standing at this window, looking out at all that is now available to us and saying, “WOW.”

  8. says

    I learned to type on a manual typewriter but the IBM selectric was so cool because you could change the little sphere and have different type! I have been through it all, including the 5-layer carbon paper, each with its own special color of whiteout… baby blue, pink, canary, green, and beige. I am amazed at how much has changed in my lifetime. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    • says

      Ooh, yes! Multicoloured white-out (though is it still white-out if it’s not white?)…and carbon paper! I had to explain this concept to my 18-year-old a while back, and felt incredibly ancient doing it. Kind of like talking about crank-operated telephones and party lines. :)

  9. says

    Oh Lynne, you are talking my language! But for someone who remembers life before computers, I am tethered to all my devices and think texting is the rage. How did that happen?

  10. says

    I remember thinking that word processors were the greatest invention ever. Before that low-paid secretaries in offices sat at typewriters all day, typing long tedious things, such as budget documents of draft regulations, that were certain to change a whole bunch of times.

    Learning to use a word processor was great for me because I was a really terrible typist. I never wanted to get better since I didn’t want some guy asking me to type something for him. With a word processor, errors were easy to fix, and everyone–even guys–could type their own documents.

  11. says

    Does anyone remember the MTST? It was as big as a double keyboard Hammond organ and all it did was record typed documents on a cassette tape? Hoo boy, I thought I was high-tech back then. Knew something them new-fangled computers! It was more than forty years ago, back in ’67.

  12. says

    Yes, I remember DOS (*shudder*) and those long strings of commands required to accomplish the simplest task! My first experience with a PC terrified me. What if I broke it? Now a day without my PC causes withdrawal symptoms. But I’m still not into texting. Yet.

  13. says

    Boy, this brought back memories. I have to admit I loved the sound of the typewriter but was first buying my WP. And, I remember that freaking blinking cursor where you had to impact a:/ for a floppy disk. I even had to create computer training on that stuff. Great way to realize how far we’ve come. Thanks!

    • says

      It’s my pleasure – good memories shared, Donna. And I really enjoy the convenience of where we are today, although it IS sometimes like trying to drink from a firehose.

  14. sksorensen says

    In 1987, I enrolled in a course at the local junior college so I could learn more about computers. The class was an Intro to Basic Programming and boy was I surprised when I discovered I had to learn to write code! I got a B in the class, but was not any closer to understanding the workings of DOS. Thank goodness Windows came along. I’m now a diehard Mac fan.

  15. says

    Ah this is good. Made me smile all the way through remembering learning to type on a manual typewriter in high school, then the Selectric for years before graduating to DOS, then my first PC, … now Macs. My 97-year-old aunt emails and is on FB (but not active). But like your mom, my mom never got the hang of any of it. However, she was curious and amazed with the technology and especially appreciated Skype when she was able to talk to her great grandson in Australia. He was four when she died and that’s the only way they ever talked, but what a gift.

    • says

      Martha, what a gift, indeed. Technology has improved the world. Look at the dissemination of information now in previously closed societies (e.g. Arab Spring activities) And we’ll never be alone, even if as we get older we are unable to leave the house!

    • says

      Martha, last spring my dear father-in-law, aged 90, was too ill to travel to our city and attend our Passover seder. So I had the idea of Skyping him in–we made a place for him at the table, put a laptop computer on a stack of books where his plate would be, aimed it down the table, and proceeded…with him present and accounted for! He loved it, and we were so glad we didn’t have to go on without him.

      • says

        This story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. What a gift to all of you.
        Reminds me of mom’s 100th birthday. We placed her birthday cake in front of her with the oomputer just past the cake. Three-year-old great grandson was on Skype from Australia and four-year old great-granddaughter was next to her as she blew out her candles (with help from both of them). I have photos of her arms wrapped around her body as if she is hugging GGS and photos of the two of them “together” on the screen. Thank you Skype!!

  16. says

    I took my first computer course in 1965. (I was, of course, only two at the time!) FORTRAN and coding in machine language–it was one of the TWO, count ’em, computer courses that the university offered. When I was hired to manage faculty professional development at a community college in 1993, one of my major objectives was to convince the faculty to use email. It has been a “long and winding road” for sure.

    Sometimes I wonder if we/I will keep up. Or will our kids be saying when we are 87, “I wish my mom knew how to use xyz. I think she would enjoy it.”

    • says

      Susan, I wonder about that, too. Like if something keeps replacing the social networks I’ve built up and am used to, if they go out of business, how will we all migrate together to the next new thing, and the next?

      • says

        The one thing we can guarantee is that technology will continue to change at a fast pace. I’m just hoping that I keep up like some of the 80-somethings and the 90-something(!) that have been mentioned here. The alternative, I fear, is isolation and that dreaded creeping invisibility.

  17. says

    My parents are both 85. My dad uses both a computer and a kindle fire to access the internet. My mom won’t touch either, despite my best efforts. (She informed me that I was a TERRIBLE teacher, although I had, during my work life, done a presentation or two on technology usage). My parents were divorced 45 years ago, so that’s one thing we can’t blame on technology. Everything else is fair game.

  18. says

    I learned to type on a Selectric…and boy was I fast! 😀 I remember the first computer my husband and I had, it was one he brought home from work. Had the 5-inch floppies and was DOS. At that time, all you could really reach online (at least for a non-techy like me) was some FTP files at the library, and I remember exclaiming to my husband how exciting it is to watch that little cursor thingee twirl and twirl and twirl while accessing amounts of information beyond what I ever imagined. I was in heaven. My love for all things increased exponentially since then. In fact, one of my first articles published in a newspaper (in 1994) was “Confessions of an online addict.” I was addicted even all that long ago. Crazy the changes we’ve seen since.

    • says

      Lisa, you are so right. I remember we were so excited in my office when we got to order two new Selectrics, the kind with a 750-character memory? What a thrill it was to just hit the Code key plus a numeric key and see that round ball flying from margin to margin. Hooey, we were something then!

  19. says

    Good old DOS. I’d forgotten all about it.

    I remember my first email acct which I had through a university. NO ONE outside of academics knew what I was talking about when I mentioned email. I felt so alone.

    But look at things now…

    • says

      Ally, I remember walking into my boss’ office, wide-eyed, and telling him that I thought I had discovered something: if you wanted to find a company’s website, you could just type the company’s name plus dot com and probably go right to it! And he said, really? and hurried over to his computer to try it. I mean, he was Mensa-level; it wasn’t about brains. Just everything was so new. Fun to remember!

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