After Hours

Spotlight Question: Life before computers?

TechRepublic member smatee sent in question that deserves some creative answers. Please post your responses in the discussion thread. The three most entertaining posts will win a TechRepublic coffee mug.
TechRepublic member smatee sent the following question to my colleague, Mark Kaelin.

What was life like before computers came to the picture?

Of course, answers to this question are very subjective! However, I'll send a TechRepublic coffee mug to the three most entertaining responses (at determined by moi) that are posted in this discussion thread.

About

Sonja Thompson has worked for TechRepublic since October of 1999. She is currently a Senior Editor and the host of the Smartphones and Tablets blogs.

94 comments
Jessie
Jessie

When I was a child: I thought nothing of riding my bike 3 miles to the swimming pool to swim for an hour or two and ride my bike home. I rode my bike to the library to check out books (and pay my overdue book fees). My friends and I played with toy guns and Barbies. We'd spend the whole day outside summer AND winter playing tag, catching fireflies, hiding and seeking. Dad would sometimes come outside and play with us. My children's childhood: My kids think walking the 1/4 mile to the daycare provider's house is a LONG way, "Can't we take the car?" My kids think going to the library is [i]old school[/i], "Can't we just look it up on wikipedia?" My kids play with toy guns in MMOGs and play dress-up on www.barbie.com. My kids whine the entire time we're outside unless the temperature is between 70 and 75 degrees F. My husband plays with the kids by taking a turn with the Wii-mote.

Canuckster
Canuckster

Faded FAX thermal paper curling in a physical inbox full of carbon copied memos. No office complete without a large desktop calendar with penned notes written directly on it and space to spread out the files and folders and to lose documents that were never spell-checked or replied to. All backed with filing cabinets full of paperwork that was archived the instant it was filed away. A system was down when the telephones went out or the toilets clogged. Sales people had secretaries and secretaries had typewriters the size of compact cars. Rounding out the image is the office attire of the human being behind the desk - ties were almost always required unless you were female, then it was a blouse that covered the shoulders. You were either at the the office, on a business trip or taking a sick day. No one ever showed up in pajamas and started their day with a catch-up on their friends around the world or across the street.

DMambo
DMambo

As I'm lecturing my kids about how much less screen time they should have, I'm reminded of how my father used to lecture me about how I should watch less TV. And he'd tell me how his father would tell him to get the heck away from that radio. And of course, my grandfather would be told to put away that useless copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I can only imagine some long gone ancestor being told to stop staring at those damn clouds and get the rest of the hay in. So, all in all, fundamentally life hasn't really changed that much, I guess.

dark_angel_6
dark_angel_6

My friends and I used to blow things up! :D Actually it was more like making home-made fireworks out of things like sparklers or match heads...... Ahh... Good times.... Hmmmm.... now that I think about it, life is a lot safer for kids with computers around :P

AV .
AV .

Before computers, people spent more of their personal time on mundane activities. You had to go to the bank every week to cash your paycheck. There wasn't direct deposit. You had a typewriter. God bless the person that invented Correctype. No Internet. No networks. It was a simpler life. It was slower paced. Everything was done manually. Handwriting was important. People used to write letters. Socializing was done locally, face-to-face. Events were printed in the newspaper or on flyers that were left on your car window. When I look back on that now, I think people really thrived in that environment, even though there was no technology. It was more about the human experience. AV

jayblack69
jayblack69

OK, try this one... I took a trip to the past here in Richmond Va a few years ago. There is a realty office that handles a rather large number of city residential rental properties. I went to see them about an apt I had seen and when I walked in I was stunned... There were small wooden desks piled high with paper in a large open main room... There was a guy with piles of manila folders on a rickety wooden cart dropping off a stack of files at a desk... (a file clerk! a freakin FILE CLERK!). There was a woman behind a barred window taking payments... and I watched in awe as she hammered down a few buttons and then reached up to crank a large lever forward then back... to operate the mechanical adding machine. I finally sat down with a very harried looking rep and as he dug through the looming piles of paper stacked on his desk, I asked him wonderingly if his company had ever heard of computers, the internet or if they knew we had passed the year 2000 yet?? He looked up and very, very firmly asked me to PLEASE not bring ANY of that up. Seems his boss, the company owner, didn't trust all that new fangled stuff... yet. This was spring... 2005. Absolutely true story... simply amazing.

wbranch
wbranch

As an under 30 year old, I can only glean what life was like before computers. According to the TV, everyone drove to work in cars using their feet, to their jobs in the rock quarry where brontosauruses were used, and everyone went to the drive in and got racks of ribs the size of a Buick. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go tweet about my mid-morning snack, check my facebook page and bitch about why my job isn't making me CEO already since I have my college degree and all. And I guess my boss expects me to do some work or something. Hard A**es...

.Martin.
.Martin.

what? there was a life BEFORE computers? :p

Tig2
Tig2

Is the question one of function or philosophy? Before even beginning to answer, I am going to make the assumption that the querent is asking about life before the [i]proliferation[/i] of computer in work and home spaces. From a philosophical position, life was slower but not any lesser because of its pace. People were more apt to KNOW both their neighbors and their co-workers. Details were paid attention to, letters were written in longhand and sent to friends and family, and people took a quiet pride in the ability to DO things, not just 'initiate' them. For those very few who came into contact with computers routinely, they were massive machines with hordes of attendants who catered to each analog whim. People who worked on them were thinking people who knew HOW to think. There was a naive belief that in the magical future when computers came into the home, they would enhance a way of living already in place. Alas, that isn't what happened. From a strictly functional perspective, business ran more slowly. Innovation was born of actual thought. Critical thought, even. Ideas were ratified in meetings where all the participants were actually in the same room and attending to the same presentation. Change was slow but it was generally well considered. Human error was, indeed, human error. And humans, being humans, were known to err. If your billing or statement or whatever was considered by YOU to be in error, the business in question made every effort to help find the source of the error and rectify it. Customer Service MEANT something. Of course, the corollary to this question is, "Would you, if you could, prefer to live in that time before the proliferation of computers?"

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Well assuming that you mean the modern Computers and not any device to perform calculations it was marginally different. Those who relied on Maths to design things lived and died with their Slide Rules in their Hands clasped as if letting them out of their hands would mean instant death and of complete disgrace. You began any design by Guesstimating what you thought would be the Maximum Loading on something and then calculating the finial design. This involved weeks or months of Maths only to find out that you have guessed wrong to begin with and you had to start over again or worse one of the people involved mad a mistake and you had to redo all the calculations from that point on again. Any form of Paperwork required a entire bank of people to perform it and check the transactions whatever they where and then having the paperwork rechecked by another group before being filed. Any Questioning of the Transactions could take weeks to investigate and even then there may not have been a answer for several months depending on just how complicated the check had to be. So you had masses of low paid workers doing the basic calculations who where checked by better qualified people and this all made whatever more expensive for the End User. So if it was a bank, Solicitor or whatever doing the Typing, Recording the costs where higher and the more that had to be done the more it cost not to mention all actions where considerably slower to complete. When it came to designing things it was a very time consuming process with everything needing to be guesstimated first and then worked out to find out what was required. So in the case of things like Cars every part had to be Calculated to allow the engineers to decide what material to make it out of for it's Design Life so it wouldn't wear out or break, from the humble bearings to how other more vital components where made, like Suspension components. These where always made better than required which gave the impression that they where better made when actually you just ended up paying more for something built heaver/tougher than it actually needed to be. It also took considerably longer to design something new so it was years between product changes. Even then any new model always relied on existing calculations and Piratical Experience from past models so it saved time and money by reusing existing components from previous models. When it came to things like Aircraft they could only work with what was known and so things like the Crashes of the UK's Comet due to Metal Fatigue where not uncommon and a Design Experience that other Manufactures relied upon to make their products work better or less likely to crash. A good time not to be the First to Market with something new. ;) In the case of the Comet as Big Picture Windows had been used on slow unpressurized aircraft in the past they where considered as safe and necessary, to use on the faster pressurized Comet which flew considerably higher and resulted in what was effectively a Perforated Line both sides of the Fuselage which failed over time. It wasn't just the British who had this design but as they where the first to market with a Production Version they got the Bad Publicity for this Unknown Feature. It killed the British Aero Space Industry and Made Boeing into the Market leader that it became with the 707. But on the up side the Expensive Medical Equipment that was available before Modern Computers came into existence never resulted in a Computer malfunctioning and killing people. Though to be perfectly honest they may have died from not having access tot he expensive Medical Equipment to begin with. ;) [i]Edited to add[/i] For a better description of these processes I suggest reading Nevil Shute's Slide Rule. It has a very good description of what was involved in designing the R 101 Airship. Col

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

'cause I saw an old dictionary that defined a computer as one who performed computations. :) Slide rules, mechanical adding machines & cash registers, even abaci were used to calculate. Math texts had large tables for logarithms and other functions. You could even find whole books dedicated to these tables. The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics still exists. So do others. Some of your nerdier people would make their own custom tables and carry them around. Their pockets would be full of papers & pens. Spreadsheets were a form you filled out with the formulas over the cells.

FlyingSumo
FlyingSumo

Gather round the camp fire kids, and let me tell you of a time when we weren't afraid to go out in the sunshine. You see back in my day there were no computers, and T.V. only came in one flavor...Black & White. There was no cable and you could count the channels on one hand. Books, ya know books? the bound group of papers with all the words in them. they were stored in a big repository called a library, and in the afternoons we would ride our bikes or walk down there and read stories about all kinds of wonderous things. News came to our doorstep in the form of a rolled up paper and was delivered by a paperboy. As difficult as it was to have to actually leave the house for our entertainment, we managed. Drive in movies were all the rage, we'd pile up in a car and take off to a huge parking lot with hundreds of other people and watch a movie projected on a gigantic outdoor screen, and on clear nights you could actually see the stars. Life was tough then. We had records insted of cd's, and you had to mail a letter to friends and family far away; it could take weeks to reach them as it was carried by hand and truck. But at the time it was a good thing, we had all kinds of stuff to remind us we are living breathing people, and the sun was one of them. big, bright, shinny and warm, it told us it was time to go out side and play.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I liken the overall conjecture to be Before there was solid state, or pre transistors. Loads of vacuum tubes to do any job. Pens, pencils and erasers. Even calculators weren't really apparent before transistors, it was a slide rule or slip stick if you prefer. You would also have to imagine any device that was portable to be quite heavy and loaded with two or three different kinds of batteries.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Fantasy Sports meant running around on a vacant lot, pretending you were Lynn Swann, Joe Montana, Dale Murphy, Ozzie Smith, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. News was reported by people who had experience and/or schooling in journalism. Everyone still had an opinion, but it was easier to keep it to themselves. A teenager was in constant fear of mom uncovering his porn stash. Three cheers for disk encryption!! Archie Bunker & Meathead, not Peter Griffin & Stewie. Nuclear war meant getting hit with bombs, not having a hacker shut down a power plant from thousands of miles away. Writer's cramp, not carpal tunnel. SPAM had a bad taste. Now, SPAM is in bad taste.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

my kids. I have two sons, twelve and thirteen. Like most boys their age, they get in trouble for typical things, you know like not doing homework or hitting their brother or keeping their mother up to 4 a.m. during a sleep over with their friends (yes, that happened last weekend at my house). Well trying to be the good parent that I strive to be, I always end up taking away some technical treat from them like television or the XBox or computer privileges. If you went by their reaction, you would expect CBS to be on the phone with Jim Belushi (because he would definitely play me in the movie) lining up the CBS movie of the week about two deprived children that might as well be forced to live in the barn, eat dirt and wear a hair shirt. Just the thought of having to I don't know... read or go outside and shoot some hoops or ride a bike is horrifying. But to be honest, there are days that I am shocked that there was a day in which we had to buy a newspaper to get movie times or actually balance our checkbooks to know how much money we had or go to the store to buy something. My kids peruse eBay like they are at Walmart. I wonder how many generations it will take until we hear a child say "what's a phone booth?"

dark_angel_6
dark_angel_6

Come on now, we've never been self-reliable even before computers! lol

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Doing more now requires less energy. They call this progress, right? ;)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

"A lot safer" is not necessarily good. The kid that would have, in our day, somehow managed to kill himself is now living to have children of his own. And the shallow end gets shallower...

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The Form Letter was King of all Documents. Cheap to produce and you only needed to add the recipients name and maybe their address. This is still used but is now part of a Mail Merge and overused to hell. If you needed to do a mass mail out you needed a team from the Typing Pool that was counted in the hundreds not one person with a Laser Printer and lots of paper. Col

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

interchangeable daisy wheel was pretty cool... :D

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

The veterinarian that I go to in Louisville, KY, still has a filing system... rows and rows of paper cards (alphabetized by last name) that they leaf through when you arrive with your pet. If you are new to the clinic, they take out a new card, place it in a typewriter (I kid you not), and type out your contact information. They are one of the most affordable vets in town, but you can't schedule an appointment, and it takes three to five hours to be seen. I imagine their system is tried and true, even though computers would make it easier to locate files.

vmjosh
vmjosh

I remember when we made the switch from morse code telegraph over to phone lines. it was very difficult to get some people to get the hang of it "so i say dot dot dot dash dash dash and the other person write it down, and then replies back?" "No, you just say what you want to say, and the other person will hear you" "So this tele-phone interprets what i say into dots and dashes? so am i going to hear a bunch of dots and dashes on the reply?" "no, you will just hear what the other person has to say" "i dont get it" "There is an accompanying manual with it..."

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Is Life? I have no idea what that is but there is one thing I'm certain of, [b]I don't have one[/b] because of Modern Computers. :p Col

seanferd
seanferd

Computers designed and created us to be their servants in this world. Some of us just think otherwise.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

I remember something like that. Some people were better at that than others. I hardly wrote letters. My Mom OTOH joined a pen-pal group back in the 60s & corresponded with several people around the globe. I recently came across a couple of drawers of letters she saved. Too many to read just now. So I will probably scan them for the future. So in answer to your last question, I guess I prefer to live with the computers.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

"A teenager was in constant fear of mom uncovering his porn stash. Three cheers for disk encryption!!" Yeah now mom can read your history or has software to do it.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Video game deprivation is a very serious condition in my home as well. Unfortunately, it's not only my son who suffers from it. Yes, I'm addicted to my PS3... but isn't admitting it the first step to recovery? ;)

wbranch
wbranch

You raise an interesting point. Without phone booths, what will Clark Kent use to change into Superman? I'll bet cell phones are a conspiracy by Lex Luthor! Also, you take away your childrens' XBox, computer and TV? You monster! Why hasn't Child Protective Services hauled you off yet? :)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Self-reliant. Meh! What's the difference? ;)

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

I feel something has been lost, and it is an important something. Interaction with others and physical exercise, two very important somethings. To get them back requires the use of the off button, use it early and often.

AV .
AV .

The form was King of all Documents, but they were paper, unfortunately. Stored in boxes in closets and filing cabinets, you had to carefully load them into the typewriter and try to type in the right places. If you didn't get it right, you had to throw the form away or try to fix it with Liquid Paper or Correctype. There was always a Typing Pool. That was the only way back then. AV

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The Golf Ball Typewriter was even better and a lot faster. ;) Though I did get feed up with the Gold Balls flying off because they where not locked in properly and getting broken. Those suckers where really expensive and didn't work at all well when any of the Tabs on their base got broken. :D Col

sduran
sduran

Phone books - why do they even print these anymore? There used to be just one and now there are 3 or 4 every year and each one is different (and you can never find what you want in them). Encyclopedias - My father was a sucker for encyclopedias and bought a new set every year. We looked up stuff in them to do our homework. My father still uses them for crossword puzzles, but if any of the kids are around they'll find the answer by "googling" it on their laptop or web-enabled cell phone before he can look it up. Maps - Before GPS there was mapquest and before mapquest we kept maps in our glove boxes. I even learned the art of folding one properly. I really miss maps and still refer to them occasionally - like when the GPS says "You have arrived at your destination" in the middle of a bridge or exit ramp. All of these things are still around, yes, and I occasionally use them, but I can't see my 10 y.o. ever using any of these things outside of school. My 3 y.o. has used a phone book as a booster seat.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

First you tell me I'm wrong, then you admit you have no basis in experience on which to form an opinion, THEN you provide a link to an image of an analog computer? If you are going to be that literal, you are more than welcome to do with your opinion what will do you the most good.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I haven't seen one in decades; all they have now are those stupid pole-mounted units. Even the pay phone is going the way of the dinosaur.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

to haul my wife and I off to prison for forcing my kids to go outside.

seanferd
seanferd

Especially with the phone books. They want your attention, and they are in competition. Sad business model, I'll agree. The other reason is that not everyone uses computers or the internet. Another reason is that some people couldn't search for a phone number or map on the internet if their life depended on it, I kid thee not. Even though the concept is the same as searching for "collectible baseball memorabilia". Some folks just don't get it. As a matter of fact, you may (or may not) be surprised at how many people who cannot manage to search for an answer for a particular common and easily fixed problem, can manage to find this site, sign up, and post in the (sometimes wrong) forum. Just how it is, I guess.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Well if you where to do that the question quite clearly asked [i]What was life like before computers?[/i] So taken Literally that would mean any sort of computer. Not something as common as Personal Computers but any computer. ;) Col

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'd give you one of mine if it wouldn't break the set. It's up to Sonja whether you get one or not.

jkameleon
jkameleon

"Personal" is not mentioned. I've made my 1st personal computer somewhere ummm... phew... yeah, it was in the 1980s. My the then country was under the US hi tech export emabargo, if you can imagine such a thing. Certain chips were quite hard to obtain, one had to get creative. Mail order from the USA, proper city & ZIP code, and wrong country on the delivery address. US customs haven't noticed anything, while proverbially meticulous Swiss or German post took pains to deliver the parcel to its proper destination. Yeah, and... KGB never got anything from me, cross my heart, and hope to die.

jayblack69
jayblack69

This is more about what life was life before our generation... My father was born and raised in a 2 BR farm house... No electricity, hand pumped water, small woodstoves in all 4 rooms and the kitchen, one hole outhouse and learned to read by candle light. He was an oysterman's son, worked the farm and the oyster boats after school. No TV, but after they got electricity they had a radio and eventually got a phone on a party line... We still had that when I was a child. He went to VMI, became an electrical engineer and worked for VEPCO (Va Power) for 40 years... retired as Sr. VP of the Eastern Div and passed one fine day in Aug of '09 in his bed, in that same farm house by the bay at 79. My daughter was born in a brand new hospital here in Richmond Va... She is being raised in a 4 BR house with central gas heat and central air. She has had her own PC since she was 4. She is connected to a wireless LAN, has 2 large format flat panel TVs, one in the pub and the other in the den. She has DishTV with DVR in HD and I have no idea how many channels... She has an MP3 player the size of a credit card. She takes movies of everyday events for fun on her Mom's HTC phone. She thinks it's "cool" to video chat with her Au Pair who now lives in Brazil. She loves playing MarioCart on the Wii against kids from ALL OVER THE WORLD... LIVE. I have watched, and actively supported, our world go from 3 channels of TV to live Wii gaming online. Our generation is the one that seals the breach between those of our father's generation, who rode horses as a matter of course, and our children's generation... who ride the Ethernet as a matter of course. And I have read a lot here about how we no longer go outside... well, I don't know about you, but my kids and my wife and I spend one heckovalotta time outside in the snow and sun. I shoot and hunt and 4wheel and work on my antique Allis-Chalmers Model B 1950 tractor as hobbies and my kids tear up our yard and the trampoline and each other and my wife works in her amazing garden and all around our 5 acre yard all summer long... It can be hard in good weather to get everyone IN the house for dinner sometimes! And we have all the connectedness with the wider world that all the technology gives us too. It is not the technology that is important... it is still all about PEOPLE. May I have my cup now... PLEASE!! :D

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The question is being taken to mean "What was life like before [b]personal[/b] computers came to the picture?" I, too, have been working with computers since high school, but I started with punch cards and a Burroughs 3500. The computer in those days was [u]not[/u] part of the day-to-day picture for the vast majority of people.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... the concept of "analog life before computers" doesn't make much sense. BTW, in college, I've actually learned how to program these things http://dcoward.best.vwh.net/analog/eai.htm The model we played with was similar to TR-48, only a bit newer and bigger. Never had a chance to put this knowledge to practical use, but it was nonetheless quite inspiring. I was able to understand mathematics behind general system theory and even digital filtering much easier.

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