Sunday, July 6, 2014

Halt and Catch Fire?

So I’ve been watching the new show Halt and Catch Fire on AMC. I showed up in case it was going to be the new Mad Men, but stayed for the weird retro music and the flashbacks to my childhood. Much as I remember about the real eighties, there’s an alarming amount of beige.

In the show they’re trying their best to design an affordable personal computer that weighs less than fifteen pounds (ha ha we all say as we reach for the smartphones in our pockets). All the characters are very conservative and wear boring (mainly beige) clothes, except for Cameron, a rogue programmer. You can tell she’s a rebel because she listens to Punk Rock Music and wears t-shirts. If they keep up this kind of subtle characterization, this series is sure to garner lots of awards.

I’ll probably stick with it for a bit because for one, it’s a summer series. Let’s face it, the bar is on the low side. Also, watching it makes me remember the early eighties, aka my early childhood. The show has also caused me to consider my strange relationship with computers. For something that barely existed for the first twelve or so years of my life, the computer has become pretty darn important in my life. My laptop is practically an appendage at this point.

My dad, who’s a baby boomer, worked in sales. He told me that one day someone brought a PC into his office, plopped it on his desk and announced something like, “From now on, this is how we do things.” He said that’s essentially what happened to everyone in his generation.

That had to be rough. But my generation’s relationship with computers was a little murkier. We had computers in my high school. I went to a big public school; we had maybe two rooms full of Radio Shack Tandy machines: green cursor, black screen, floppy drive. As a student I remember visiting these strange devices only sporadically. In contrast, I took a typing class (as in, the room was full of typewriters) twice a week.
Sleek, elegant design. Refreshing lack of user-friendly operating system. 
When I was a freshman in college, the school held a ceremonial burning of the library card catalog, and told us to use the computers to find our books. That’s cool, except I’d just finished learning the how to use freaking card catalog in my senior year of high school. 

This kind of crackerjack timing has been the hallmark of my life’s experience with technology. 
The clever title Halt and Catch Fire, though it's supposedly some early bit of programming language--is also kind of a perfect metaphor for technology. Yesterday's amazing new invention is tomorrow's pile of old crap. 

At least until it becomes a collectible, and then you can really clean up on eBay. 

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