As a millennial, I’ve spent most of my life under the public expectation that I possess some sort of innate ability to connect with technology, and even more specifically, computers. The notion that young people are the go-to resource for all of your troubleshooting needs has died down a bit recently, but there was a common perception held throughout my childhood that millennials had some sort of special knowledge when it came to computer usage. Neighbor has a problem with their internet connection? Send in the teenager. They’re the experts when it comes to this, well, whatever this is. Of course all generalizations such as this are flawed, but many stem from at least some form of truth. Unfortunately, I’m a serious outlier when it came to this particular assumption.
I’m not entirely hopeless when it comes to using a computer. I cannot particularly remember a time in my life when I was not aware of the existence of computers. Navigating files, knowing where or when to click, and using the advanced technique of the right-click (now a two-finger tap on my magical MacBook) have always been fairly intuitive processes for me. But as far as knowing how a computer works, using new software, or coding? Not a clue. Even the word ‘coding’ still brings with it a certain form of mystique and fear.
I remember our home computer was an old, fat, gray hunk of machinery with a hefty thingy on the floor that was connected, but seemed separate, from the monitor (to me, the monitor was the computer, the other thing was who knows what). I mostly saw it as a mini, lame TV that didn’t have color or channels. What, then, is the point? It lived in a room upstairs room that mostly just stored random ass stuff from our house. We called the room, ‘the computer room.’ We are a creative family. To be sure, I preferred ‘the TV room’ to ‘the computer room.’ My dad might have used the space as a study (the more I think about it, I realize it was definitely his study. I’m guessing the desk we now use for our Mac likely supported the immense weight of that hefty gray monitor in its younger days).
My appreciation for our computer truly dawned when I became aware that this was not just some lame television, but rather a Santa Claus tracking device. Crowding around the computer on Christmas Eve with my siblings, we closely watched a small window that reported Santa’s whereabouts. I now know that
my Dad of course had ulterior motives: we would all desperately scramble to bed once we saw that Santa was nearing the United States, because the earth might just stop spinning if Santa happened to skip over our house because one of us was awake. Hindsight is 20/20 y’all.
No, my first hands-on experience with computers occurred in my kindergarten class. The green glow of the type against the black background of the desktop is securely filed away in my brain’s ‘computer stuff’ folder. The keyboard was one of those ultra-thick gray click-clackers with those finger-formed curved keys.
Playing computer games and using the computer were inextricably intertwined. (I assume) the games were educational. All I really remember about them is that one of the games had a bunny rabbit. But give credit where credit is due. Computers were way better than some portly television. Now they were an inferior substitute for the technological masterpiece that was the Nintendo 64.
My understanding of computers as a game platform persisted with my eventual use of our home computer. By that time, we had a new home desktop; it was still pretty obese, but it was black instead that depressingly lame gray color. At the time of its unboxing, I can recall a distinct sense of fascination. The specs? Well, it read compact discs. What more could you possibly want?
Most of these games were also disappointingly educational, but I usually found a way out of learning much of anything. Jump Start Typing, Zoombinis, Carmen San Diego, and Roller Coaster Tycoon were classics. I’m not sure how I managed to enjoy them, honestly, just because I was terrible. At all of them. I don’t know that I ever, even once, succeeded in crafting a theme park that achieved any of the set goals in Roller Coaster Tycoon. Honestly, that game is
just way too difficult. How are these people so unhappy at this theme park? Are you not entertained!? But I digress.
From my perspective, computers were great. Sure, the learning part was disappointing, but that was hardly a factor – Jump Start Typing is supposed to teach you how to type, but (full disclosure) I still type with only my index fingers. Does that disqualify me from being a millennial? I’ll let you decide.
It took me until my middle school days for me to alter my understanding and begin to see computers in the light of productivity. My first experience with social networking sites was on Gmail. Gmail was a big hit early in my middle school days. Naturally this tied in with my first email account, but I don’t think I used the email account that much. From Gmail I moved next to MySpace.
MySpace was cool, but I don’t think I ever fully understood what it was. I still don’t, which is probably why it’s been such a flop. I liked being able to build a page online, and seeing your name and picture online was pretty cool. The internet was a place where other people did things and wrote stuff. Having my own place online, that I could get to and update even when I was not on my home computer? That was pretty cool. The problem with MySpace was just that there wasn’t much you could do. After you made a page, there wasn’t a lot of reason to post things or share anything, so it didn’t capture me or my middle school peers for too long. Besides, this website called Facebook was supposedly made for people in high school and beyond, so if you had one in middle school, you were a big deal.
As I’m nearing the end of this post, the natural next direction seems to be a consideration of how my technological beginnings impacted or somehow swayed my current perceptions. I don’t play computer games anymore, or many videogames at all for that matter. I’m not a computer expert, in any sense of the word. I’m fairly conservative of the way I use my laptop. And maybe that’s why I’m taking this New Media Writing class. I’m excited to expand what I am able to do online and the ways in which I can share ideas. I think this class will help lead me in that direction. Stay tuned to find out.