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Monday, March 11, 2013

Personal Slaves

A 1982 vintage C-64 hooked to a portable TV.
 Yes, we used to save data using a cassette recorder.
My first one cost $364 (initially over $500).

It's kind of tiresome when we hear on TV about how much computers have changed our lives. Well, DUH! Yet twenty years ago, who would have thought... Recently an artist friend of mine and I were discussing whether her family should get a second computer. It was like deja-vu. What we were saying we had said again and again. When personal computers first came into homes I questioned why anyone would want one. Well, I got me a Commodore-64 and found a great new hobby. I Learned to write programs in Basic and found a creative outlet that was just...incredible. I moved up to the C-128 and taught it to do about anything and everything I wanted it to do. I lived with it for ten years. Computers advanced but I didn't. "Hey, this thing does everything I ever wanted, why should I get a P.C.?" I Looked at them, almost bought a MAC in fact, but just couldn't justify the cost versus the benefit over what I already had. In looking back, I probably saved a ton of money in terms of upgrades, etc.

My first PC, Windows 3.1 and a beige box.
On the downside, I fell off the technological bandwagon. I had to relearn just about everything there was to know about computers before I could even shop for one. Then, during the summer of 1993, I was "sort of" an instructional aide for a computer workshop held at the local community college for preteens. (Some aide! I learned as much as the kids.) At any rate, even with the now-ancient Windows 3.1, it was enough to make me realize that even though I could no longer program it, a PC was the way to go. We got a pre-Pentium 486Dx2 that fall which served the family well for five years. However, after two or three years, my wife and I quickly realized we each needed our own computers. A personal computer became so personal, it was almost like trying to wear one another's clothes. My wife wasn't so sure we needed two computers in the house, but the price seemed right so we bought her a Pentium 200 MHz. That plodding beast that kept me alive when my machine was in the shop getting a new CPU. (It was a love-hate relationship to say the least.) Then I got a 300 MHz workhorse (use to call it a race horse but became rather plodding as the years passed). It became like another member of the family (something of a live-in slave).
Room and board

Going online had a similar story. Before I got on the Internet I flirted with Prodigy a few days. But with no local access number I decided it was too expensive (in terms of the phone bills) and besides, "What do I need on the Internet for anyway?" "E-mail? What's e-mail?" Well, all that changed when CompuServe came up with a local access number. In a word, I discovered "chat." I hate to think how much that cost me at $1.95 an hour! Finally, new friends on the net put me onto the fact I could access AOL through a local service provider using TCP/IP with unlimited time from both. I discovered a mailing list by and for painters like myself, and just how much freedom "unlimited access" really carried with it. Then came learning to use HTML and it was like going back to programming in Basic again. I'm sure, had I not retired, my artwork would have suffered (in terms of quantity at least). But, I quickly developed (and redeveloped a few times since) my own  web site at a time when few artists even knew what a web site was. This story goes on for another fifteen years, but I won't. It's amazing how our feelings about these machines have evolved as they and their economics changed. I doubt I could ever be without one now.
The point in all this is that more than just computers change. Times change. All too often artists don't. Although artists are frequently characterized as being among the most liberal of society, that's something of a myth. Stereotypes are often not stereotypical. Artists can be quite conservative and set in their ways, especially when it comes to how and what they create, a well as their attitude toward money and the acceptance of change (and I don't mean dimes and nickels). In their youth (usually their college days) artists learn to do something well and then become reluctant to learn to do something else well or the first something better. If this trait persists, the new can become so overwhelming and intimidating as to make change extremely difficult, if not impossible. Except perhaps in the case of stone sculptors, art is not set in stone. It is fluid, and today, becoming ever more so. Most people tend to become more conservative as they age--artist no less so than others. The important thing is not to become antiquated.

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