As a dude of a certain age, I've grown up during the speedy evolution of so many fascinating pieces of technology that went from clunky mechanical manual processes to automatic, invisible magic that makes life so very easy. Even when technology fails to meet my modern expectations, there's still a part of me that looks back at the last 30-something years worth of tech and then back again at the non-functioning piece of hardware in my hand and appreciates the fact that I no longer have to put up with how things used to be, or wishes that times were simpler. When I talk to my young cousins and nephews about their phones and consoles, I can't help but wish they'd known what life was like when I was a kid so they'd appreciate how unbelievably amazing the times we're living in really are.
1. Interminably long load sequences and loading fails
Our first family computer was a Sinclair ZX81 Spectrum, which my parents still have stashed away in a cupboard. I loved that thing; it seemed like the future was here right now and that nothing was impossible. The only problem was that programs came on tape cassettes, and the only tape player in the house that had a compatible connector to hook up to our Spectrum was a relic from the late 70's with a flimsy socket.
A ZX Spectrum loading screen. Watch this for 10 minutes and relive your 80's childhood.
You never truly know crushing disappointment until you've sat for 10 minutes with youthful excitement waiting for one game to load only to find that it failed because the connector had worked it's way loose, or the tape head didn't quite align properly and you withnessed the dreaded R Tape loading error, 0:1 message.
The reliability of loading programs improved when we upgraded to an Atari ST, but it just wasn't the same character building experience. I loved my Atari ST for it's simplicity, but I knew it's technological superiority had made me spoiled, lazy and wasteful with it's the fancy 8-bit stereo sound, 3D rendering prowess and the seemingly limitless 256 colour palette.
2. Physical Media As The Only Option
The endless reminiscence about physical media truly is a symptom of a deep seated age-related malaise, but the ritualistic aspects of collection, organisation and sharing were a wonderful distraction that kept kids off the streets and off drugs. Sort of. Not.
Ok, so the only thing that physical media really did was clutter up our homes and induce a kind of transient OCD in people, but what it did force us all to do was to not only go out and hunt for new experiences, but also to communicate with others. The first peer to peer file sharing networks were actually networks of your peers trading mix tapes, bootleg copies of videos and the pursuit of the unknown was what made it so much great. Sure, there are records I've only just been able to get now because I can hunt down a copy online, but if my teen years hadn't been spent journeying to the nearest big city from my home town and searching through record shops with friends, there are a lot of experiences along the way that I'd have missed out on.
3. Insanely Ridiculous Mobile Phone Design
The evolution of the mobile phone has been astoundingly quick. We've gone from fairly conservative looking phones that closely resembled cordless home phones, to the insanity of the early 2000's to the, quite frankly, dull touchscreen slabs we see today. The playfulness and colour that manufacturers used to inject into phone design seems to have mostly disappeared. Where we once had the kind of insanity that the Nokia 7600 brought to the table, we now have relatively sedate designs shipped out.
The spirit of risk taking seems to have been replaced by designs that are too timid to make a statement in the way that only a lipstick-shaped phone or weird teardrop/leaf thing can.
This...is actually a phone.
4. 8 bit, 16 bit, 32 and Beyond
I'm not much of a gamer these days, so to me modern games look incredible. With the exception of some fairly plastic looking facial modelling when you're close up on 3D game sprites (are they even still called sprites?) sometimes I can't quite imagine what more people could ask for.
It's easy now for me to look back at 16 bit games and see just how rough around the edges they looked, but when you're a kid moving from 8-bit to 16 bit games, and you have no other frame of reference, the change is astounding.
Games will never look better than this.
There was just something so mind-blowing about going from a computer that could do 16 colours on screen to a console being able to display 256 colours on screen at once. I thought things could never get any better than how sharp and realistic Mortal Kombat looked on my SNES, but when my friend's Playstation arrived and we sat down to play Battle Arena Toshinden, my 13 year old brain went pop.
5. The Early Days of the Internet
Broadband what? Our family didn't get online until 1998, but before that the only thing I knew of the internet was gleaned from visits to my Playstation owning friend's house. From 1994 onwards they not only had internet connectivity, but they'd got a separate line installed (which was later upgraded to an ISDN line) so that they could use get on to the internet superhighway without interruption.
Imagine a world where you *had* to use multiple search engines because website makers had to submit content to each one. Imagine a world where there's a pause in a website loading...then a a soft *click*, before the dialer screen pops up and your mother calls out, "sorry, I picked up the phone by accident!" from another room. Imagine a time where a site rings and web awards were the signposts around the ‘net. Imagine a world where you were nobody without a Geocities site. Imagine a limitless supply of colourful free drinks coasters from AOL. Yeah, life back then was sweet!
100 free hours? Well that's 100 ways great!
That's All Folks...
These were only a few of the trials and tribulations growing up as a kid in the 80's and 90's, and I feel slightly disappointed that my younger relatives will never have to work hard to get technology to work for them. The current generation of personal computing and media consumption is so simple already can it can only get better and more seamless an experience. My relatives will probably grow up without ever needing to learn how to destroy and re-construct the tech they use, and that's great, but to me, there's something about the imperfection of experiences that motivates you to do more to get more.
What do you wish todays children and teenagers had had to endure?