We've come a long way

Computers have been around since the 1940's, but the desktop personal computer was born when IBM, twenty years ago, brought out a machine that could be purchased by individuals and small businesses at almost reasonable prices.

There has been a lot written about this anniversary that I won't repeat. I might look back, briefly, at my own personal journey in computing from my first encounter with a computer at Purdue University in the mid 1950's to today, as I write this article on my desktop using a word processing program that wasn't even dreamed of then.

So much has changed over the intervening years. At Purdue, we gave instructions to our new computer by means of an old teletype keyboard. To add two and two, we had to enter arcane commands like C8 2 and B4 2 to put the numbers into registers. Then we had to enter something like F3 to have the total (four) printed out. Complex calculations, like a calculus equation that I needed for a thesis, took hours to program, took forever to run and hours to print out the results.

Today my desktop computer, which I purchased for a third of the price of a desktop in 1980, is more powerful than the computers used by the National Security Agency back then. And the programs that I use, like this word processing program, allow me to type along, see the results instantly on a screen and print out a copy in seconds.

I don't look back on the old days with that much fondness. I am much happier today with the power of the machines and the sophistication of the programs that combine to make my life so much easier. How many of us remember carbon paper and WhiteOut?

Today, the computer has become a tool of life, not an intellectual exercise. I write my articles on it, balance my checkbook and use email and the Internet to gather information. What did we do before this?

Recently I read a book, NEXT, by Michael Lewis, which seems to say that the future of computing belongs to the children. Maybe in some respects he has a point, but I don't think that should keep us adults from being able to master this tool in a way that is meaningful to our own lives. A teenager made $800,000 in the stock market using information gleaned from the Internet. But the same information is there for an adult. So, it's the desire to learn, not age, that determines how computing is going to be used.

So, let's mark this anniversary with just a glance back, but reserve our interest for our own future using the computer as a useful tool as we go about our ever more interesting lives.

Of course, to keep life interesting, you might mark your calendar for the beginning on a new round of Internet and computing classes that will be starting the first and second weeks of September through the Tustin Area Senior Center. Call 714.573.3340 to get information and to register.

If you would like to hear more about computing in the old days, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing. And register for the new computer classes.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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