I’ve owned a computer since 1984 – almost 25 years. That initial computer purchase had a single purpose: wargaming. Until my 12th birthday, my wargame was chess. But chess is a closed system and once you learn the standard opening moves and responses it becomes predictable and boring.
For my 12th birthday, my father indulged my interest in military history by giving me a wargame – Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg. A big scaled map laid out in hexagons, color coded for terrain type and elevation, was the board for moving counters representing every unit in the battle. Unlike chess, the tactical and strategic options were virtually unlimited. My best friend and I dropped chess to spend hours on these games.
Unfortunately, legitimate concerns for “realism” made the games so administratively convoluted they were no longer fun. Manuals grew to the size of short novels and we spent more time filling out forms to track ammo, declining unit strength, morale, supply, etc. than playing! So those games went onto a shelf.
In the 80’s, computers promised to become the holy grail of wargaming. Now, the CPU could handle all the boring administrative tasks, freeing us armchair generals to plot the strategy that would lead to victory and glory or to a cyber death with honor from which we could arise and try again. Also, if a human opponent wasn’t available, the game offered up an AI opponent which was either adequate (if you won) or a cheat (if you lost).
For gamers, the computer of choice was initially a Commodore. It had four colors and sound when the IBMs were monochrome and spoke only in beeps.
Unknown to me, and to most everyone else at the time, the computer would eventually take on a role that would revolutionize our lives. I had the first hint of that when, shortly after buying that Commodore in 1984, I learned of a service called Q-Link. For about $10 a month, I could use my high speed 12K <g> modem to connect to a network for Commodore users and share information using a bulletin board style format. And if I had an hour to spare, I could also download a small game, utility or other program. Very cool!
Soon, IBM clones featured color and sound and also more computing power. Wargamers began to migrate to IBM clones because the games required more and more computing power as their complexity increased. (Notice the pattern?) Just before I migrated, Q-Link ceased service. Its founder, Steve Case, decided he could make more money with an IBM-oriented service many know as A-O-Hell.
After I migrated to a clone, I joined an online service – Delphi. They had all sorts of “forums” and I became the assistant host for the travel forum. I found myself spending more time on Delphi and less time on wargames. In time, these closed, proprietary online systems gave way to the World Wide Web.
When I left the Philippines in 1970, I assumed I’d slowly lose touch with all my friends as we spread out into the world. By 1995, that prediction had come true but I was still in touch with one classmate. But that one was all I needed.
In September 1995, he called and told me he had seen a posting on…A-O-Hell….about a California-based alumni organization for our high school. I sent off my $10 to join and soon received a directory listing some 2,000 alums from the Classes of the 40’s through the 90s which included about 75% of all my friends with their address, e-mail and phone number. That month, my long distance bill was in the triple digits as I reconnected with friends I hadn’t had any contact with for as many as 25 years.
I attended my first “all classes’ reunion the next year and it was quite emotional to catch up with childhood friends after 25 years. The Internet has truly kept me connected to my childhood and if that’s all it did then I’d be happy. But that’s not been it’s only impact….
I’ve been webmaster of my high school alumni organization’s website since 1999. I have a personal “umbrella” website that has three websites: travel photos, Las Vegas, and my own high school site of “old days” photos contributed by friends, Classes of ‘70-‘79 reunion photos, etc.
At home, I spend more time on the computer and Internet than any other activity. I have over 50 online accounts from Amazon to Yahoo. My wife gets the TV to herself because I rarely watch anything more than the ABC national news and, of course, some poker. I’m definitely an Internet junkie!
So what do I do all those hours online? Besides maintaining those websites, which I consider Internet time even though I maintain them offline, I’m often checking out travel sites to plan for future vacations. Presently, I’m planning trips to Puerto Rico, Puerto Vallarta and the Netherlands / Belgium within the next two years. There are a number of shopping sites I monitor, particularly FatWallet. I read the Las Vegas newspaper online, since I consider Vegas my second home. I read Philippine newspapers online too.
Since I’m retiring in two years, I’m using the Internet to research moving to Costa Rica. I grew up in a Third World country, so I have no problems retiring to one. My dollars will go a lot further in Costa Rica than they will here. They have a nice health infrastructure designed to attract American retirees (as many other countries, including the Philippines) are doing). I’ll probably have a maid again! And enjoy some of that fine Costa Rican coffee Intimidator’s growing on the plantation he’s part-owner of.
Then there’s this blog, which is taking more time than I thought it would and so I decided to post only on Sundays after I moved it here. But if the choice comes to poker or blogging, then my future is in the cards…lol!
My father, who had no computer, could never understand how I spent hours online. So, after I went to a new system many years ago, I brought my older system down to him just so he could get a taste of what a computer and the Internet were all about. For a few weeks, I was giving him a lot of basic “technical assistance” on the phone.
It didn’t take too long for him to scrap my older computer so he could get a machine to surf the Net at a faster speed. It became almost impossible to call him since he was always online! (He had to get a cell phone for his second wife’s “talking.”). While I always knew more than he did about the hardware, he quickly surpassed me in most of the “social” elements of the Internet.
I learned that he was regularly chatting on the Net with a teacher in China he met online by chance and I had no idea why he’d be interested in that. He joined A-O-Hell and became a computer advisor to the “senior citizen” group of that ISP. I enjoyed needling him about what he could possibly be doing spending hours online! It was easier to e-mail him than talk with him because if he was online when I called he didn’t want to get off the computer… unless he had a hardware problem he needed me to talk him through.
Today, the pervasiveness of the online world is taken for granted by the generation that came of age with the Internet. For those of us who saw it evolve from the 80’s to today, the Internet is probably the most revolutionary development in history in terms of personal, day-to-day impact.
And to think all I wanted a computer for was to play wargames….
(Next Sunday: since I’m on the subject of technology, let’s look at where technology, which is accelerating geometrically, will take us: one of the world’s top futurists, with an impressive technological and predictive record says: The Singularity, the melding of flesh and machine.)