I am solidly a Gen-Xer. I was born in the first half of the Gen-X generation. My childhood was a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n roll, or more aptly, a little bit analog and a little bit digital. I remember the lifestyle my parents talked about (2.5 kids, white picket fence, small town charm) and I know the lifestyle the millennials know (“you can be anything”, live your dreams, see the world!). I have no complaints with this but as I have become an aging Gen-Xer, I’m following the footsteps of the “when I was a kid…”.

As a technology enthusiast I am enthusiastic about computers. Makes sense, right? The lights and buttons and dials of the ages have entranced me in many ways throughout my life and because of my Gen-X roots, I think of computers first and foremost as a tool. Technology give us the opportunity to learn, grow, and express ourselves.

When I was a kid (there it is), my computer, a Commodore VIC-20, was up in my bedroom and used on rainy days or after dark. My first self-funded magazine subscription was to “Compute!”, a periodical for computer enthusiasts in this budding world of technology.

I quickly discovered the limitations of the 2K of memory in my Commodore VIC-20 by writing my own programs, usually emulators of the electronic point of sale systems I saw at various department stores. App stores would be decades away and any sort of standardization would still be a few years away. For example, I couldn’t save my program written on my VIC-20 on a floppy and open it on the Apple ][+ back at school. In those days, our software arrived by mail and specifically, by magazine.

Image from Compute!, courtesy of arstechnica.

Typing in your software line by line is an amazing way to learn how to program. I learned the importance of fast and accurate typing skills at an early age and more importantly, I learned how to spot mistakes quickly and cross check my entries in a fairly quick manner.

This “software” distributed by magazine laid the foundation of a skill set that I still use today as a Software Engineer. It taught me not only the role of technology in our lives, but how that technology works. In 2021, it’s more important than ever to know how technology works. The typical user of a smartphone or whatever may not know how to write a program, but I believe it’s really important for users to understand that whatever is happening in that little box of technology is not “magic”. We put a lot of trust in our devices. We become attached to them. We need to remember they’re a tool in our box of tricks in this game we call life.

Here’s an article from Geek Chicago that talks a little bit about how your iPhone knows so much about you. The article is five years old but the principles remain the same. It’s a short read and written in understandable terms.

Never stop learning about the devices you rely on.