If you can’t remember a time when your household didn’t have a computer, you don’t remember what a huge deal acquiring that first household computer was back in the 1980s.
The entire computer-owning experience was different in the pre-internet days, from what you worried about to what you loved most.
Here are 5 things we loved about old technology, and 5 we’re just as happy to do without.
Love: Getting a Computer Was an Event, Not a Chore
Seeing that very first tower under that very first monitor and printing out that first document were all really big deals back in the day. The first time a household booted up that new IBM PC (or clone), very often the whole family was gathered around, waiting for the DOS prompt to appear. It didn’t take much to entertain people with tech then.
Hate: Everything was Huge
If you wanted a computer in your bedroom, you needed a fairly large desk, especially if you wanted a printer hooked up to it. Monitors weighed as much as the typical 10-year-old and took up nearly as much space. “Portable” computers of the 1980s were so named based on a very loose interpretation of “portable,” because they were about as easy to carry around as anvils.
Love: No Worries About Security
When software arrived as shrink-wrapped floppy disks, the whole concept of a computer virus was foreign. Sure, there were early “viruses” that were transmitted via floppy disk, but they weren’t something people thought about the way they do now when they click on a sketchy, but enticing website.
Hate: Labeling Diskettes
Many people thought, “Of course I’ll remember what’s on this diskette. I don’t put stuff on diskettes often. Besides, I lost the labels they came with.” These people ended up with piles of mystery disks on their desks, some of which they’re probably still afraid to throw out, despite the fact that they can no longer be read.
Love: Neatly Ripping Tractor Feed Strips off Dot Matrix Printout
Remember carefully folding the tractor feed strips back and forth on your printout, then the blissful satisfaction of all of it coming off cleanly, with no rips and no “hanging chads” left on the paper edges? It almost made up for how horrible dot matrix printout looked.
Hate: Having to Tear Apart and Collate Printout to Make Reports
Miles of tractor feed strips probably buried a few hapless victims in the 1980s, and was almost as bad as having a shelf of DOS manuals fall on you.
Then again, if you were printing out a report to hand in at work or school, you had to get all the tractor feed strips off cleanly, then carefully separate each page, then make sure they were all in the right order. The thrill of clean tractor feed strip removal tended to wear off quickly.
Love: Winning Solitaire
Winning solitaire on your computer was at least as satisfying as winning solitaire with a real deck of cards. Clicking that last card into place and watching the virtual cards dance across the screen gave you a real sense of accomplishment, just like winning a particularly vexing game of Minesweeper.
Hate: Finding Space for Software Manuals
It’s a good thing computer solitaire didn’t come with a manual, because it would have been 18 volumes long, divided into shrink-wrapped chapters that had to be individually inserted into the provided binders. Then you’d have to find a place to keep them for the entire five years you spent not looking at them before finally recycling them.
Love: Tying Up the Phone to Go on the Internet
Few experiences are more satisfying than inconveniencing a sibling, and if you ever tied up the phone going online, causing your sister to miss a Very Important Phone Call, you know this satisfaction. And unless the computer was in the middle of the living room, you could usually convince your mom you were using the internet to “study” anyway.
Hate: Other People Tying Up the Phone to Go on the Internet
Then again if you ever picked up the phone and started dialing without checking to see if someone was online, thereby severing their connection and bringing down their wrath, you know that dial-up had many drawbacks. Accidentally kicking Dad offline while he was downloading a huge spreadsheet so he could work at home rarely ended well for either party.