Technology with a soul

A word of warning: this is a "nerds gone wild" post. This post contains rambling, weirdness and everything else in between.

What happened to technology? More precisely: what happened to computers? In the "good ol' days" we had computers that were fun and interesting. They were the kind of machines that send shivers down your spine and they actually fostered creativity. I dunno, maybe I'm just sentimental or something, but still.

My first computer was a C-64. And that machine was a blast! Of course I was just a kid, so I mostly just played games with it. Games were loaded from C-tapes mostly, and it could take ages to do so. We simply don't have the time or the patience to wait for several minutes for some app to launch today. But when you waited for 20 minutes (worst-case scenario) for some game to load, it made the game feel so much more worthwhile. You really had to go the extra mile to do something with the computer. Today you just click an icon, and if it takes longer than 10 seconds for the app to load, we start to complain.

That machine was then replaced by C-128. I was the only kid in the block with C-128, rest had C-64 or MSX. Yep, I was cool even back then! And that machine was a joy to program! It came with BASIC that was very simple to hack, even for me. So I spent several hours in front of the machine with my brother creating simple programs. I was actually _creating_ something with the computer.

After C-128 came the biggest step in my computing-history: The arrival of Amiga 500. It's difficult to explain the feeling of moving from C-64/128 to the Amiga. Most people simply use computers, they are not otherwise that interested in them. And kids today don't really know anything about the Amiga since they were too young back then (hell, many of them weren't even born!). But the difference between Amiga and C-64/128 was huge. It had a GUI! The machine could actually talk! Stereo-sound! Multitasking! That was all new back then (well, Macs did predate Amiga on the GUI-front by a bit). And, in my opinion, that was the last time we have seen real innovation in computers. Ever since Amiga was introduced, all we have had is the same stuff, just a bit faster, a bit prettier. Never since the Amiga has there been such a huge step in computing, and I'm not simply talking about the performance of the computer, but the overall "experience" of using the computer. Amiga really changed things.

I still have my Amiga, and I use it occasionally. It works perfectly and it's a joy to use. Not bad for a computer that is over 15 years old. I don't care one bit what has happened to my past PC's, but I do care what happens to my Amiga.

Amiga, like the C-128 before it was a kind of machine that fostered creativity. I used paint-programs quite often. I wasn't good at using them, but I still used them. I also used trackers (SoundTracker mostly). My "music" sucked and I wasn't very good at it. But again: I _created_ something with the computer. There was something in the technology that fostered creativity.

All that ended when I took my next step in my timeline of computing: I bought a PC. A very serious-looking machine that ran DOS. It was "good enough to get the job done". But it lacked soul. It was no fun. Sure, it had good games and such, but the machine itself was boring. No GUI by default (and Windows sucked, so nothing much has changed since then), no proper sound by default. And there was no _community_. Amiga had a great community around it. There was the demoscene, where people pushed the machine to it's limits by creating kick-ass graphics and audio and we (the mere mortals) wondered at their creations. I swapped games (which, strictly speaking, was illegal....), music and demos with my friends , I had friends come over and we played together. There was a true sense of bonding going on. It was the apex of my computing-experience.

All that ended with the PC. PC's simply didn't foster anything like that. PC has that "do your job!"-attitude on it, it doesn't foster communities like Amiga did. Amiga was a computer created by enthusiasts (those enthiasts then turned to businesspeople with horrible results) for enthusiasts. I can even name the person who designed the Amiga: Jay Miner. Who designed the PC? I have no idea. Things like that are not important with PC's, PC is a computer designed by businesspeople for businesspeople. There is no soul, just technology. Technology with no soul is just a collection of chips, circuit-boards and metal. Technology with a soul is something more.

I have seen traces of that community in few places since then. Linux is one. Macs are another (although the hard-core Mac-fans are a bit too militant to my taste. But I digress). But it's just that, traces. It's nothing like it was in the late eighties/early nineties.

1 comment:

dr witmol said...

My brother had both those Commodores. I distinctly remember playing lots of games on the ol' 128 loading up with those big floppies. My favourites were Bubble Bobble, the Great Giana Sisters and Buggy Boy. We went straight from a 128 to a PC, which was great for... word processing. Sigh.