My father, and my history with him, will always be inextricably linked to not only my history with computers but the history of computers.
I’ve told this story before but stay with me. My father was an IBM engineer in the early days of computing. He’d been studying to be an actuary but IBM had somehow figured out those were the people they needed to recruit if they were going to staff out the first generation of systems architects.
He traveled a lot, installing computer systems for airports and railway stations. As a consequence, computing was part of my everyday life. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting him at IBM and seeing the massive mainframes that dominated the world back then.
When I was in elementary school, my father took me with him to the computer store, filled with its black and green CRT displays, and bought an Apple II Plus for the house. That way, he could use VisiCalc without having to drive all the way downtown to his office.
I used it to, when I was home from school and he was still at work. I made D&D character sheets. I animated the starship Enterprise across the screen. I played the weird knockoff games, like Beer Run.
Later, my father left IBM and started a consulting company. When I visited that office, I saw my first Lisa and my first graphical user interface. I remember dragging everything into the little trash can icon, delighted by it. And then, I remember not being allowed to use it again.
My father eventually started another company, one that sold and installed networked computers for large companies. I spent a summer building more PCs than I could count and setting up Xenix networks on them.
I got an Amiga at home and, eventually, a Video Toaster, and started learning how to edit, title, and create 3D objects. For work, I got a Windows 3.1 laptop and I started building websites, writing them in Notepad, but doing the graphics first on the Amiga and eventually on the Mac I replaced it with.
I got a job in graphic and web design and worked on Dell laptops for a few years, all running Corel, because Canada.
And then, I remember my father’s business partner getting a Treo 600 phone.
I’d had a Palm Pilot and a Handspring Visor, as well as briefcase and in-car cell phones, then flip phones. But there was something about seeing them all come together, all integrated, into one device that could also do email and even kinda, sort surf the WAP web, that I knew would be transformative.
I started saving up and eventually bought a Tree 650. It felt like the future.
Today, my father has an iPhone 8. He’s not ready to lose the Home button just yet. And he still has a bunch of PCs, from desktop to laptop, and he’s still just as likely to open up the command line as he is to launch a GUI.
He laughs and smiles when he sees my MacBook Pro. He thinks its fine for video, I guess, but he still likes his DOS boxes — even if I think he’d enjoy UNIX and the Terminal on the Mac if he gave it half a chance.
I’ve gotten him an Apple Watch, because of course I have, but I don’t think he really wears it when I’m not around. But, I’ll keep working on that.
It’s father’s day today in many parts of the world and that means many different things to many different people.
For me, my father, and my history with him will always be inextricably linked to not only my history with computers but the history of computers.
From mainframes in offices to desktops at home to laptops everywhere to phones in our pockets to watches on our wrists.
They’ve let us connect the world in ways unimaginable — but also isolate ourselves away from each other in ways we never imagined.
So, I’m going to take advantages of the finally lowering water levels and rising temperatures out here, on this fine Montreal June day, and disconnect myself for a while.
To spend some real time with the real people in my lives, children of fathers, fathers of children, and those who mentor and inspire or are mentored and inspired regardless of their relationships.
And maybe, just maybe, dream about what the next generation of ever-increasingly personal, and isolating, technology will mean for the next generation of people, their parents, and their children.
See you on Monday!