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How the shared family computer protected us from our worst selves
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-08-10 00:06:55

Long before phone addiction panic gripped the masses and before screen time became a facet of our wellness and digital detoxes, there was one good and wise piece of technology that served our families. Maybe it was in the family room or in the kitchen. It could have been a Mac or PC. Chances are it had a totally mesmerizing screensaver. It was the shared family desktop.

I can still see the Dell I grew up using as clear as day, like I just connected to NetZero yesterday. It sat in my eldest sister’s room, which was just off the kitchen. Depending on when you peeked into the room, you might have found my dad playing Solitaire, my sister downloading songs from Napster, or me playing Wheel of Fortune or writing my name in Microsoft Paint. The rules for using the family desktop were pretty simple: homework trumped games; Dad trumped all. Like the other shared equipment in our house, its usefulness was focused and direct: it was a tool that the whole family used, and it was our portal to the wild, weird, wonderful internet. As such, we adored it.

This describes my parental home perfectly, except that our first computer was way earlier than the Napster days - we got our first computer in 1990 or 1991 - and that my brothers and I were way more adept at using the computer than my parents were. Still, this brings back some very old memories.

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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-20 -- 21-25
No shared PC, no!
By DeepThought on 2018-08-10 06:59:25
In my family, I was the first who had computer (ZX81, 1986). And for sure no one was allowed to even touch it.
The following years came a Schneider CPC464 and an Atari ST. And still touching it was equal to becoming killed!

I cannot remember of any friend were it has been different. There has been no shared computer in no family . And when PCs became cheaper, there was no need to do so.

Edited 2018-08-10 07:01 UTC
Permalink - Score: 5
same here
By cybergorf on 2018-08-10 11:24:07
Started with a C64 as a kid probably in 85 Datasette ... later Floppy ... some hacker module to inspect the RAM
Switched to the glorious Amiga; first the 500 than the 3000

My parents had no clue or about computers and no interest in it - so it was my computer ... and yes I got addicted ... and it paid out!
Permalink - Score: 1
A parent's perspective
By BlueofRainbow on 2018-08-10 14:15:31
Very likely the majority of the comments will be from users who grew up in a family with a shared computer.

From a parent's perspective, this made economic senses. And with a shared computer model, it was easier to bring only one notebook on family trips as all knew the rules-of-use. With Windows XP, it became easy to set-up the User Accounts (with limited rights) and one Administrative Account for installations and maintenance.
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By bolomkxxviii on 2018-08-10 14:31:49
In the very early 90's halfway decent computers cost around $2,000. Good ones cost more. $2,000 was a LOT of money in the early 90's. It isn't chump change today. Kids with their smartphones today really can't comprehend how different things are from when their parents grew up.
Permalink - Score: 4
Pure, unadulterated nostalgia
By r_a_trip on 2018-08-10 15:26:00
No, the shared family computer didn't save you from your worst selves. That sharing of the computer was dictated by price, not social considerations. Wallowing in "it was better in the past" is such a bad adviser for the course of future actions.

Those kids, "who can't form whole sentences" and "who are isolated by their screens" are better connected and better socially than us old farts ever were. They have large networks of people checking in and making sure everyone is okay. They are also kinder and more forgiving towards each other.

We just don't see it, because we keep clinging to our antiquated notions that to be truly connected we need to be physically present or at least use a 100% attention demanding voice call. Which we then do once or twice a week (if that) and think we're soooo social. Meanwhile the youngsters are sharing the love 24/7 via text and voice messages and responding at the most convenient time, multiple times an hour.

So yeah, hamper your kids social development, because you lack the vision and the means to tap into the social network (formed by people, not media companies) they already built amongst themselves. I bet they will truly flourish when they are raised as a 90's anachronism.
Permalink - Score: 11
By tidux on 2018-08-10 16:08:49
Shared PCs were always a bone of contention. Moving to individual PCs was always better. The only way I would do a "shared PC" for a future family of mine is a big fat Linux machine with multiple thin clients.
Permalink - Score: 1
Comment by kurkosdr
By kurkosdr on 2018-08-10 17:34:56
Ahh, memories... Due to a rule in my family home of not having a TV or computer in the two kid bedrooms (so TV time and computer time could be monitored by my parents) the shared computer also had a PlayStation (and later an Xbox) connected to it via a cheap TV tuner card, which made computer time even more precious.

With the exception of summer though, it didn't matter due to this other rule of homework before anything else. Those two rules got me in university basically...

PS: The Xbox also had an ethernet connection to the PC so I could copy games from the Xbox DVD drive (via Evox and later UnleashX) and so I could upload homebrews.

PPS: Our family computer got dismantled and ended up in the attic so the space it occupied could be repurposed.

Edited 2018-08-10 17:50 UTC
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RE: Pure, unadulterated nostalgia
By DeepThought on 2018-08-10 20:38:04
Yepp, copy that (or 99% of it).
Same for shamefull photos (like beeing drunk, or wearing a red nose) published. The kids just don't care if the internet does not forget. Only we old dinosaurs see it as a problem.

But don't take it too idealisic: There are problems coming up with the all-time-onliner's.
Permalink - Score: 3
RE: No shared PC, no!
By SaschaW on 2018-08-10 21:45:45
I started with a Schneider/Amstrad CPC464. At that time my parents believed a computer could start a nuclear world war like in the movie War Games.
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What shared computer?
By Earl C Pottinger on 2018-08-11 00:31:21
My first machine was an electro-mechanical Logix 2000 - my parents had no interest in it.

There was also no interest when I had KIM-1 controlling the robot Steven and I built.

The I got a Pet-2001 and to keep my brothers off it I got the an Atari VCS.

Finally when I got a C64 they noticed I had a machine because of the modem on the phone line all night.

The started to boast about me an computers when I got an Amiga 1000 and hooked up a VT100 terminal, but they spent their time telling their friends I was so smart that I needed two computers!

Finally when I moved to BeOS on a dual CPU machine they go their first computer - but mom insisted on run Windows ME on that all follow up machine.

Finally today I am settled on use Haiku on my machines.

Permalink - Score: 4

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