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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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RE: Pure, unadulterated nostalgia
By leech on 2018-08-11 01:05:41
Wait, this is sarcastic right? Kids are becoming nervous talking to each other face to face because their entire social structure is based around a bright screen.

If there is ever a time when all the cell phones and power goes out, they won't know how to act!
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Ha, my family's first computer...
By leech on 2018-08-11 01:06:55
Was an Atari 800XL, but it pretty much was shared between me and my brothers. Spent a lot of time hex editing Ultima IV for sure.
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RE: Pure, unadulterated nostalgia
By Athlander on 2018-08-11 06:26:04

They are also kinder and more forgiving towards each other.

I don't think this is true.
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Heartwarming :)
By uridium on 2018-08-11 07:36:42
Heart warming tale. Similar with us. Just dad and I in the family and we went:
MicroBee -> C64 -> Amiga500 + 8088 PC -> Amiga3000 -> Amiga1200T.

Lots of assembler, text editing for his work, assignments for me and learned C there for TAFE.
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By feamatar on 2018-08-11 10:52:57
In my memories the friendship that resonates not the family.

In working class families usually parents didn't care about computers, it was there for the kids for education or just simply for gaming as the other kids already head one.

The fun thing was that every year a different kid got a computer, it was interesting to see how the rigs evolved. First one guy had a C64, next year the other guy got his brothers 486, next year other guy got the P1, then the following year a guy got a Celeron, then the following year another guy got a stronger Celeron. Then the guy who had the P1 got a P4.

And we all met at each others places for some fun time, and by 2000 almost everyone had a computer, and finally I joined the club at the end of 2001 with my Duron.
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RE[2]: Pure, unadulterated nostalgia
By Gargyle on 2018-08-11 12:06:55
> Kids are becoming nervous talking to each other face to face because their entire social structure is based around a bright screen.
Until you have proof that screens and digital social networks are to blame for those cases, this is pure conjecture or at most anecdotal.

Edited 2018-08-11 12:07 UTC
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Broader view?
By SonicMetalMan on 2018-08-11 13:48:56
Though I think the writer is nearly spot-on I think I have a broader view of the tech explosion having grown up in the 70's. We had no PC's or personal electronics, Hell even TV with more than a few channels was hard to come by. As kids we all interacted out of friendship and necessity since we had no other means of interaction other than landline telephones.

I saw the beginnings of the PC revolution as a young unmarried adult, so the family desktop was never a thing for me. I migrated at-will from a TI 99/4A to an Amiga 500 to a first-gen Compaq Portable. They were all stand-alone devices not connected to anything other than my imagination. During the 80's I learned BASIC and fortran in an effort to expand my little world.

Flash forward a bit to the early 90's. As PC's became more powerful and modem connectivity became a thing, I started spending more time exploring the outside world and less time growing my own.

Consider the analogy of the family desktop as a timeshare mainframe from the 60's. You had to maximize your timeslice in the early days which kept idle time to a minimum. Idle time on the connected home PC meant it could be used for less exemplary purposes, yes I'll say it, Little Johnny scouring through the dark underbelly of the BBS's or internet.

I believe a significant portion of youth today are largely socially crippled by their devices and internet. Their world view is almost entirely influenced by Twitter and Snapchat, and to a lesser extent Instagram and Facebook. Be engaged in your children's lives and keep open dialog about what they see and read online and how it makes them feel.

The family desktop may be gone but we can still use the lessons learned by monitoring access so we can try to keep our kids pointed in the right direction.

For the Love of God please don't put smartphones in the hands of 10-12 year olds without parental controls.
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Not still the case?
By rlees on 2018-08-11 15:26:24
Doesn't everyone still =have= a family PC? The form factor still makes a lot of sense, especially if someone in the family is a PC gamer (the indisputable, yes INDISPUTABLE, best way to game). Sure there is lots of justification for a laptop but if/when we get one I'm sure the preference would still be to do homework, etc. on the bigscreen PC.

Not that the hobby computing and tinkering happens on our PC - we've got arduino's and raspberry's for that.

I understand everyone's sentimentality for what they had when we were growing up - but is there really anything about where we are today to cause much lamentation?
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RE: Comment by kurkosdr
By quackalist on 2018-08-12 00:53:27
Think you had it tough I hadn't seen a TV till I was nearly 7...oh wait, that's a plus.
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RE: Economics
By zima on 2018-08-13 09:47:57
> Kids with their smartphones today really can't comprehend how different things are from when their parents grew up.
Yeah, I walked to school uphill both ways! ;)

(that said, I bought my first computer, C64, with my own money (though for some reason I still needed a permission, which was hard to come by, to spend that much... :/ ) in 1992; by then it was relatively inexpensive, ~$70 IIRC; and so it was only mine...)
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