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robertogreco : objectivec   1

The Sixth Stage of Grief is Retro-Computing — The Message — Medium
"Imagine having, in your confused adolescence, the friendship of an older, avuncular man who is into computers, a world-traveling photographer who would occasionally head out to, like, videotape the Dalai Lama for a few weeks, then come back and and listen to every word you said while you sat on his porch. A generous, kind person who spoke openly about love and faith and treated people with respect."



"A year after the Amiga showed up—I was 13—my life started to go backwards. Not forever, just for a while. My dad left, money was tight. My clothes were the ones my dad left behind, old blouse-like Oxfords in the days of Hobie Cat surfwear. I was already big and weird, and now I was something else. I think my slide perplexed my peers; if anything they bullied me less. I heard them murmuring as I wandered down the hall.

I was a ghost and I had haunts: I vanished into the computer. I had that box of BBS floppies. One after another I’d insert them into the computer and examine every file, thousands of files all told. That was how I pieced together the world. Second-hand books and BBS disks and trips to the library. I felt very alone but I’ve since learned that it was a normal American childhood, one millions of people experienced.

Often—how often I don’t remember—I’d go over to Tom’s. I’d share my techniques for rotating text in Deluxe Paint, show him what I’d gleaned from my disks. He always had a few spare computers around for generating title sequences in videos, and later for editing, and he’d let me practice with his videocameras. And he would listen to me.

Like I said: Avuncular. He wasn’t a father figure. Or a mother figure. He was just a kind ear when I needed as many kind ears as I could find. I don’t remember what I said; I just remember being heard. That’s the secret to building a network. People want to be heard. God, life, history, science, books, computers. The regular conversations of anxious kids. His students would show up, impossibly sophisticated 19-year-old men and women, and I’d listen to them talk as the sun went down. For years. A world passed over that porch and I got to watch and participate even though I was still a boy.

I constantly apologized for being there, for being so young and probably annoying, and people would just laugh at me. But no one put me in my place. People touched me, hugged me, told me about books to read and movies to watch. I was not a ghost.

When I graduated from high school I went by to sit on the porch and Tom gave me a little brown teddy bear. You need to remember, he said, to be a kid. To stay in touch with that part of yourself.

I did not do this."



"Technology is What We Share

Technology is what we share. I don’t mean “we share the experience of technology.” I mean: By my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. Strategies. Ideas for living our lives. We do it all the time. Parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. Quotes from the Dalai Lama. We talk neckties, etiquette, and Minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. A tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. We are good at it. It’s so simple as to be invisible. Can I borrow your scissors? Do you want tickets? I know guacamole is extra. The world of technology isn’t separate from regular life. It’s made to seem that way because of, well…capitalism. Tribal dynamics. Territoriality. Because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. So it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. A product.

I went looking for the teddy bear that Tom had given me, the reminder to be a child sometimes, and found it atop a bookshelf. When I pulled it down I was surprised to find that it was in a tiny diaper.

I stood there, ridiculous, a 40-year-old man with a diapered 22-year-old teddy bear in my hand. It stared back at me with root-beer eyes.

This is what I remembered right then: That before my wife got pregnant we had been trying for kids for years without success. We had considered giving up.

That was when I said to my wife: If we do not have children, we will move somewhere where there is a porch. The children who need love will find the porch. They will know how to find it. We will be as much parents as we want to be.

And when she got pregnant with twins we needed the right-sized doll to rehearse diapering. I went and found that bear in an old box.

I was handed that toy, sitting on Tom’s porch, in 1992. A person offering another person a piece of advice. Life passed through that object as well, through the teddy bear as much as through the operating systems of yore.

Now that I have children I can see how tuned they are to the world. Living crystals tuned to all manner of frequencies. And how urgently they need to be heard. They look up and they say, look at me. And I put my phone away.

And when they go to bed, protesting and screaming, I go to mess with my computers, my old weird imaginary emulated computers. System after system. I open up these time capsules and look at the thousands of old applications, millions of dollars of software, but now it can be downloaded in a few minutes and takes up a tiny portion of a hard drive. It’s all comically antiquated.

When you read histories of technology, whether of successes or failures, you sense the yearning of people who want to get back into those rooms for a minute, back to solving the old problems. How should a window open? How should the mouse look? What will people want to do, when we give them these machines? Who wouldn’t want to go back 20 years—to drive again into the office, to sit before the whiteboard in a beanbag chair, in a place of warmth and clarity, and give it another try?

Such a strange way to say goodbye. So here I am. Imaginary disks whirring and screens blinking as I visit my old haunts. Wandering through lost computer worlds for an hour or two, taking screenshots like a tourist. Shutting one virtual machine down with a sigh, then starting up another one. But while these machines run, I am a kid. A boy on a porch, back among his friends."
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november 2014 by robertogreco

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