It’s been many moons ago, but believe it or not, I used to be a kid. I recall it with great vividness as I saved up the money to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. I’m fairly certain I’ve told the story of the Color Computer 2 I bought, complete with no permanent storage (unless you hooked up the tape drive to it and recorded over your least favorite Bananarama tape) and an epic 64K of RAM. As the years wore on I moved up to the 386 and the 486 and that holiest of holies, the “Pentium” processor. Because sometimes you’re a chip manufacturer and you just run out of numbers.
It was at the 386 stage that I started to get curious. No, not about that hair that suddenly sprang up “down there.” I started to get curious about how these blasted things worked. Sure, I’d seen that other people who ‘built their own’ or ‘upgraded’ something or ‘overclocked’ their processors but that was all a mystery to me because I was on a flipping $5 a week allowance and the idea of spending $50 on some computer component was the financial equivalent of climbing a large mountain in the middle of a blizzard.
At some point though, curiosity overcame practicality. I had exactly one computer to my name and I spent a LOT of time on it. At the time my life consisted of three activities: Eating, Getting rid of the things I’d eaten previously, and doing something on the computer. So it was with great trepidation that I proceeded to unscrew the screws on the back of my trusty 386. Before you know it, I had the blasted thing apart and could identify the vital components by sight. I was awash in adolescent hormones and my stress level was through the roof. It was as if I had taken apart my whole life, spread it out on the carpet and having properly dissected it, hoped fervently that I could put it back together again.
Twenty minutes later the poor little thing was back together and it was time to hit the power button. … … You haven’t lived until you’ve taken your only computer apart and then had to wait for it to boot up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s something really serious like, oh, a doctor who’s restarting his patient’s heart after a quadruple bypass, but at the time it seemed just about as serious. This little rectangle was 90% of my waking hours. If it went away…. what on EARTH was I going to do? Why had I ever been so foolish as to tempt fate in this way?!!??! In the end, it started up. Old reliable Windows 3.1 came up just as it always had but somehow I’d managed to zap the 3.5″ floppy in the process. Damn. But, if the random electrons were going to find their way to zapping something I’m glad they chose to zap the part that I could most readily ignore for a while. Heck, I’d already put the 12 floppies in that were required to install Windows in the first place so I was golden as long as I was happy with whatever software happened to be on my computer at the time. (Keep in mind that the idea of a download was limited by a little device called the 2400 baud modem).
So fast forward to today. I’m an adult (by many definitions) and I could buy anything I wanted. I have the cloud to back me up so worse comes to absolute worst, I go to H.H. Gregg, ask one of the exceptional sales staff for advice, and I walk out with a brand new computer. All that remains is to download my entire life history from Google and Facebook. Easy as pie. But when Laura’s son started exhibiting signs of curiosity about his own computer, part of me sprang to life. I recalled those days many, MANY years ago when curiosity fought with practicality and I wanted to dissect what it was a really bad idea to dissect.
It began simply for Laura’s son but the signs were obvious. He started with peripherals. Before we knew it the mouse was in pieces in front of us. The earphones weren’t far behind and I knew then that if this monster of curiosity was not fed then it would not soon abate. Luckily, in this day and age hardware is easily had for a song so I went upon my way looking for something to sate the insatiable beast. As I write today the machinations are in progress to get a machine for the boy to tear apart from step to stern, to inspect in all its most intriguing detail without an iota of guilt. A luxury that I didn’t have as a lad but would have most assuredly killed for.
But then…. but then it struck me. We think of the younger generation as so uniquely hip. They are eons advanced from where we were at their age… but really…. really they’re not at all. They’re the same curious creatures that we were, digging into every nook and every cranny that they can avail themselves of. They reach, claw and scrabble to seek more, to do more, to be more. They stretch the boundaries of their assigned paradigm to its utmost. Just as we did. The difference? In my case, my parents couldn’t have given fewer shits about what I was doing. Today…. today, I see that gleam and I want to feed it. I don’t want him to go through the sadness of “breakage” on his way to expertise. So I’m out on the lookout for cheap hardware that will open the door to his curiosity without closing the door on my budget. It’s what I would have wanted when I was his age. In the end though, it just goes to show that the kids of the current generation aren’t really all that different. They want to push the envelope the same way we did. It just so happens that it’s a different envelope.