Reading the Newsweek article presented in class (and found here) made me feel a variety of emotions. One of them was OLD! I convinced myself 1995 was only 10 years ago, one of the few times my lack of mathematical abilities was actually serving me well. But being a simple equation, my brain unfortunately corrected itself and reminded me that the article was actually written 20 years ago. So why did it seem like just yesterday?
Let me explain. In 1995 I forced my father to buy his first PC. He is an entrepreneur and sold specialty cosmetics through mail order. He would place ads in the back of magazines such as Essence and Ebony. (Remember the pages of ads in the back of magazines or am I dating myself yet again?) He also started to dabble in infomercials as he noticed the revenue from magazine ads seemed to be slowly drying up. He wondered where all the new customers were going?
At 14 years old, I found myself fascinated with all things tech. I have no idea how or why- we weren’t a tech savvy home. Our televisions were from the eighties and those were probably the fanciest gadgets we owned outside of my dad’s CB Radio. (You may need to look up what that is. Wikipedia has a good description.) There were computers at my highschool. We even had a class twice a week to use them and it was my favorite. The only thing we learned was how to type. I prided myself on being one of the few who typed with accuracy even though there was a felt blanket over the keyboard so that we couldn’t see the letters. For 10 minutes at the end of class, we got to play “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego”. I still think it’s one of the best games created. For me, this was a step into the future. But, I knew computers had other, more communicative uses. My sister was at the University of Rochester and had shown me her email and the blue screened chat rooms on the library PCs. We spent an hour talking to strangers and playing funny tricks on them- I was hooked!
So when my father started talking about the downward trickle of his customer base, I explained to him that the culprit was simple. He needed to go online! We didn’t have a lot of money- his business was small and fledgling at that time. But I convinced him that the computer was the way of the future and that he needed an e-commerce site. Admittedly, my pitch was self-serving. I wanted America Online. After seeing the commercials with all the cool colors and hundreds of chats, it seemed like ample entertainment for a girl who lived in the country and wasn’t allowed to go anywhere but school. So off we went to computer store 20 miles away and bought our first computer for about $1400, no small investment for anybody at that time.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Teaching a 54 year old man who types on the typewriter with two index fingers how to use a mouse was a challenge! I wrote his first e-commerce pages using HTML. In retrospect, it was rather industrious considering my age. We could collect credit cards and had live processing on the site. As the Product Owner of an Enterprise e-commerce site 20 years later, I can tell you that concept is STILL no easy task. And I have to say, I never even thought about the irony of my job vs. how I started at 14 building an e-commerce site for my dad until right at this moment.
Which kind of brings me full circle back to the article. Twenty years are a long time, but actually not really. When I think about the household that had zero gadgets 20 years ago to where we are now- it’s mind-boggling. That 54 year old man learned how to take apart and put together his own pcs within 2 years of purchasing his first one. Now, at the tender age of 74, my childhood home is filled with state of the art cameras, sound systems and televisions. He has every i-gadget you can think of (admittedly I bought most of them). My father became a tech geek overnight and it’s something we continue to bond over. When I go home he shows me his latest toys and I show him mine. He’s always marveling at new technology. I think because he is older and more of his lifetime consisted without it, he has a deeper appreciation for the shift that has occurred in the last 20 years. I couldn’t help but wonder as I read this 20 year old analysis of the internet: What is that guy thinking now?