ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Plugged In

Plugged In


More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives
Plugged In HomeAboutContact

Technology for the rest of us

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



As you’ve no doubt read, Apple CEO Steve Jobs is stepping down from the company he co-founded three decades ago. Tim Cook will take over the reigns for the long-term, and has served as COO since 200. For those who don’t follow Apple nerdery obsessively like I do, This Is My Next has a profile about Tim Cook.

As a way of saying thank you, I want to look back at how the computer changed my life, and those of many others.

For me, the story starts at Williams Elementary in Austin, TX sometime in the late 1980s. Williams was a great school, you see, because we had a lot of tech gadgets and science classes, which meant we played with the most cutting edge technology of the day (this was back when AISD’s finances were in better shape). We had it all. Fax machines, laser disc players, and satellite communications? Check check check.

Best of all, we had computer labs full of the coolest computers: Apple computers. They all ran neat educational software (in addition to Kid Pix, which is still my favorite graphics program to date). To someone who grew up messing with his uncle’s abandoned Franklin computer (and the damned dot matrix printer!) in his room, using the Macintosh was like grasping a piece of the future. Even at a young age, I could tell that the world would never be the same. This was the future, and there was no going back.

The first computer I used was an Apple ][. I remember practicing basic arithmetic on it, on some sort of flight game where, by answering math questions correctly, you would be awarded munitions (bullets, missiles, and bombs) to shower upon your targets. These targets, which were bunkers, tanks, and radar installations, all exploded with a satisfying 'kaboom', rewarding you for supreme arithmetic skills and a mastery of projectile motion. Come to think of it, the game took place in Iran or Libya, which makes me realize how little has changed in the past twenty-odd years.

But I digress. The Apple ][ was eventually replaced by various flavors of newer and more powerful Macintoshes, including a PowerMac, which was my first foray into video editing.

The Macintoshes at Williams were where I learned to type with Mario, held my first computer-to-computer chat with classmates, wrote applications in Hyper Card, and stayed up all night at a lock-in playing Spectre Challenger (preparing a generation for Predator drone piloting? You tell me.). As you can imagine, they hold a special place in childhood, lodged comfortable between The Real Ghostbusters and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

By the early 90s, the computer had truly become something for the hoi polloi. Case in point, my parents bought a computer (a Performa 6115 if you’re curious, complete with CD-ROM drive and a 14.4 kbps modem!) for my sister before she headed off to college. Soon after, we were dialing into the World Wide Web, and again, there was no going back. Computers had moved into the home, and in the process, we were swept onto the Internet, where there was more information available to us than I could have ever imagined – or downloaded!

Fast forward to 2011 and the personal computers as we know them are no longer bound to desks or homes anymore – they live in our pockets and keep us in constant contact with the rest of the world. Just yesterday, thousands of people along the East Coast tweeted live accounts of the Virginia earthquake. By some accounts, tweets reached people in New York City faster than the tremors did.

The form factors and operating systems have changed over the years, but the same principle has remained the same: putting technology into the hands of many. Personal computers helped kids in suburbia learn to type in the 1980s; today, Africans are using mobile phones as banks, allowing them to avoid hefty fees and buy and sell products faster than ever.

What started as a revolution in the valley has provided the tools of technology and information to the masses, either directly through Apple’s own products, or by the new markets created around the innovations. Because of that, I hold a great deal of respect for Mr. Jobs and believe we will continue to see his influence, even though he is no longer running Apple, Inc.

At dinner the other night, two young girls were giggling as they watched a video on their parent’s iPhone. Even with the mighty Macintosh I had growing up, holding a video in my pocket was pure science fiction. Who knows what devices we’ll be using in 15 years, and what problems these girls – the next generation of scientists and problem-solvers – will be working on. It’s entirely possible they’ll look back fondly at this technology of their youth, and appreciate how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.

So for everything, I say, thanks.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? david.m.wogan@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





Rights & Permissions

Add Comment

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Holiday Sale

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >

X

Email this Article

X