Confession of an Internet Junkie

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.)


17 responses to “Confession of an Internet Junkie

  1. What a wonderful story. I especially liked the part about your Dad. I know that many Senior Centers have classes to teach people how to use the Internet, which I believe is so important. As we get older, we lose touch with so many people due to distance and it’s harder to make friends. I think the Internet is the most important creation in the history of mankind. My sister gave me my first personal computer in, I think, 2000 or maybe 1999. I had a lot of catching up to do!

  2. Anarchist, great story. If we are treated to this kind of writing once a week, it is well worth the wait!

  3. Fakename…I’d say even 8 years of computer expereince makes you a “veteran” by now!

    And Nick….I can’t promise they all will be great stories but if I do know if I try to go to more than one post a week, I assure you many will be …weak.

    Next week’s post will be somewhat….!

  4. Commodore 64 – oh yea – those were the days. Chess is a thinking mans game I challenge you.

  5. I am personally OK with weak 🙂 Matter of fact, most of what I post would qualify 🙂 But I agree with Nick, your posts are always worth waiting for, and I am anxious every Sunday morning for them to appear.

  6. Anarchist, I’ve had a computer since 1987 with a Dot Matrix printer, lol. To get a letter off the printer usually took many tries and lots of cussing because of the tears the printer caused. For many years after, I knew more than my adult sons. Well, not any more.

    I find it very interesting this next generation (my grandson just turned 18) only text messages, no writing messages to e-mail addresses. And, is he swift with his 10 fingers!

    What is your take on this?

  7. Libertine..I had the “racehorse” commodore..a!

  8. MzCycnic…I remmber those dot matrix printers.
    Quality was dependent on something I’ve long! Last dot matrix was a Panasonic with “near letter” quality.

    As for texting…I’m too damn lazy for it…lol!

  9. Now Fakename..don’t be dissing your own posts as ‘weak”….lol! We all have different interests…

  10. Great post! I also think the internet is the greatest invention in history but would endure the fires of hell before crediting Algore.

    I walked out of the Dozier Library in 1991 feeling very stupid because I could not use the recommended resource which had replaced the standard card catalog. I began my remediation soon and by 1999 had home internet. Now I am networked and have pda as well. I love texting and stay in touch with my kids in ways that matter with texts. Yesterday my daughter who is at a girls week end near St. Augustine was texting me about her USF Bulls football standings. Had some fun with that. And during games it is awesome to text family and friends.

    My mother and I have stayed in touch better since we both became internet junkies.

    I love to shop on line jeez does it save time and gas.

    I have met many people around the world with on line chat and find better understanding of other cultures by talking to people.

    I have yahoo IM, Skype, and MSN. Talking with others has never been easier.

    I would write more now but the little IM icon just lit up with a friend from Lithuania. So see ya!

  11. ptfan1 -” Great post! I also think the internet is the greatest invention in history but would endure the fires of hell before crediting Algore.”

    What about:
    motor vehicle
    indoor plumbing

    In the past 25 years yes you are right but their are a lot of things out their that make our lives more enjoyable. It is in my top 10.

    spencercourt – And yes I did upgrade to a C 128 after I found out the 64 for cave men. But alas I did not do my research first or I would have gotten a 128 or maybe they were not out at that time I have to many dead brain cells these days. What day is it anyway?

  12. Holy smokes PTFan1…for someone who got Internet in 1999, you have come a long long way! (Of course, that was 9 years ago.)

    I admit that I am somewhat old school; no pda; no texting; just came around to MP3 (and then only for long flights out west); only chat in rare scenarios and then only with folks I know in the flesh.

    But hey, maybe when I retire I’ll get bored and take up all these other tech forms!

  13. I hope the Lithuanian guy was telling him not to vote for McCain…I am vigorously opposed to texting (although I’m occasionally forced to participate) and that whole Bluetooth thing. I think I will post my reasons!

  14. Oh yes, I forgot about Bluetooth…the first step in our assimilation by the Borg! You never know when you hear someone alone in public “talking” to no one you can see if (a) they are just a wacko, or (b) have a Bluetooth in the ear you can’t see….

  15. Libertine those are all great inventions. Certainly there are pivotal moments in human history that stand apart. I have seen treaties on great inventions many rank Guttenberg’s printing press as the greatest invention since the wheel because it drastically improved the democratization of education from those who were elite to everyman. I believe the internet follows exactly in that tradition and allows/enables everyman to communicate with everyman.

  16. FN you can be against bluetooth but just think about what that cell phone does to computer speakers, car radios and how hot it gets on long calls. Do you really want it next to your brain? You are a cancer survivor if I recall correctly do you know what the % of brain cancer survivors is?

    Anarchist….I can’t download the pdf I want to send you untill I take the time to finish wordpress it seems. It’s pretty revealing and I know you will appreciate it. But it uses the f word often so TD would have a hissey. Its a sarcastic analysis of the subprime situation.

  17. Uh PT…just *what* does a cell phone do to computer speakers and car radios….interference?
    My computer speakers are shielded and I don’t normally use a cell phone when I’m in the car.

    And when *will* you finish wordpress?

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