Barcelona‘s song “C-64” is a perfect love song to teenage computing in the 80s. I had such a crush on my Commodore!
I’ve got 64k memory
I’ve got cartridge boards on ebony
I’ve got power cords strung out the door
Think I’ll set up my bulletin board
Got a modem when I turned thirteen
But my dad doesn’t know what telephony means
Only 1200 baud
Never leave my room
My skins turning pale
Knocks on the door
Please don’t disturb me I’m here with my C-64
You can hear the first 30 seconds of C-64 on Last.fm but it doesn’t seem to be on sale anywhere. Here’s a hilarious, horrible commercial instead. Apparently Commodore nerds have their own gang sign?!
I would sit on the floor writing long horrible BASIC programs to make “sprites” move around and other sprites shoot them.
My first computer encounter was in a children’s museum in Boston with a room-sized vacuum tube affair with a black and white screen that could play tic-tac-toe. I was sure someone was pulling my leg and there was a person in there, like the illustrations of chess-playing automaton hoaxes. Later in a kids’ programming class on Saturdays I cried along with every other kid when our punch cards didn’t work. Then onward to stolen moments with my dad’s work computer, with a neighbor’s Kaypro “portable” and another neighbor’s Apple II. Mostly I was writing programs that wrote poetry and trying to understand arrays of arrays of arrays, grammar, and how to make random sentences that made sense. Then for months I diagrammed out how to structure a program that could play solitaire – a program I never managed to write. With no Internet, and no books, I had only what I could pick up from random people or figure out for myself. The Commodore 64 though, had books and sound and color, so along with the random poetry generators, I made 7 layers of sprites sail around the screen and learned a lot about waveforms. For games, mostly I played Zork and every other interactive fiction game I could get my hands on.
When my parents bought me the C-64, it was a big deal, a subject of debate and worry to spend all that money but also a lot of speeches about How Things were Different Now because of Feminism; I would have Opportunities that maybe women before me didn’t have. So I had the vague sense that the computer was important beyond what I could do with it; I had to live up to it.
All these computers were the closest thing possible to an alien or a robot. They were like a dream come true, science fiction made real, mysterious stories of UFOs or spontaneous combustion or Atlantis, that would obey my commands. I loved computers passionately!
Questions for the geeky women out there,
And I don’t mean this as any sort of chest-beating old-school-boasty geekier-than-thou thing where whoever touched a PDP-6 wins, but sincerely to explore experiences and emotions and our bonds with machines,
What was your first encounter with computers? What did you first do with them? Were you playing games? Doing Internet stuff? Bulletin boards? Art? Chatting? What did your earliest computer encounters mean to you? And what computer did you first own? How did you feel about your TRS-80, ZX Spectrum, C-64, or whatever came before or after that?