AT RANDOM: Taking a big ‘byte’

Technology and the death of Apple's co-founder

When Steve Jobs died last week, the outpouring of grief around the world may have seemed a little over the top to many, but the guy whose company’s ads featured the line “Think different,” really did change the way we use technology.

And the death of the Apple co-founder and visionary got me thinking about my first brush with technology, although perhaps that’s a word that should be used only loosely.

It was Grade 9 typing class: most of us figured it was an easy way to earn an A, slack off a little and pick up a useful skill at the same time.

The typing room at my school had several rows of desks, each with a typewriter at its place, resembling a steno pool from a ‘50s film. And when I say typewriter, I mean the old-fashioned kind that required some force to get the keys to strike the paper, that required the user to manually return the carriage to the beginning of the paragraph each time, and if you made a mistake, you got out the trusty bottle of Liquid Paper, which you then had to wait for it to dry, after first ensuring you hadn’t applied too big a blob.

But this being the glamorous and fast-moving ‘70s, the typing room also contained two items that were much coveted by all of us: the IBM Selectric typewriter. They were the height of modern technology: keys you merely tapped with the lightest touch and a magical little tape that could erase your mistakes without resorting to a bottle of white-out. And miracle of miracles, they had an automatic return function. Oh, the glamour!

About 10 years later, I was working for a production company in Vancouver. After seeing me patiently typing out letters and other documents on an electric typewriter, the company’s receptionist finally decided it was time I learned to use a computer.

I was terrified, frankly. But learn it I did: floppy discs, strange names for files and other functions of the early PC. But wow, did it make my life easier.

A few years after that, my mom bought an Apple Macintosh Classic, a tiny little computer with the hard drive built right in. Not that I knew what a hard drive was. I used it for doing up my resume, and the possibilities for creativity astonished me.

When my mom updated her Classic to a larger and more modern version, we were overwhelmed by the fact that you could actually learn stuff just by putting a CD in the drive.

So when the Internet first made its debut, it was frankly more than my brain could take in. I remember when we first got it at The Morning Star, on one computer that was shared by the entire staff. Not unlike those IBM Selectrics of long ago, this was also much coveted. If you were lucky, you could sneak on, wait for it to finish dialling up and then surf the Web to your heart’s content. Of course, you did it carefully, because as the minutes ticked away, the phone bill was going up.

For those of us old enough to remember the thrill of the Pong game you played on your TV, we never could have imagined that one day we’d be checking Facebook on tiny little cell phones, watching movies on an iPad, having access to thousands of tunes on an iPod or talking to friends half way around the world while sitting at a computer. And as I hurry to meet my deadline I’m grateful that instead of a bottle of white-out and sheets of carbon paper on my desk, I’ve got my Mac in front of me ready to help me on the way. So Janine, wherever you are, thanks for introducing me to the ease of a computer. And Steve Jobs, thanks for making them so incredibly easy to use. Thanks for taking away the mystery, for making them fun and for making them really good looking bits of technology and, dare I say it, pretty hip, too.

And in reference to the problems iPhone users had this week in downloading new software, Jobs would probably smile at my favourite Tweet from yesterday, “Steve Jobs has only been gone a few days and we are already experiencing the start of the techpocalypse.”

—Katherine Mortimer is the lifestyles editor for The Morning Star