The Corner

Science & Tech

Random Access Memories

(BogdanVj/Getty Images)

In response to Open Vistas

Jay has asked readers for memories of their first computer.

At 27, I’m not very old (at least not yet), but, unlike many of my now-peers, I am old enough to have memories of the “pre-modern” world. The dial-up tone, for example, awakens deep nostalgia within me. As does thinking about (I think) the first computer I used: a Windows 95 laptop that my father received for work but didn’t end up needing much. In the mid-to-late ’90s, there was far less use for such things. So it ended up being mostly a plaything for my siblings and me.

It took about five minutes to boot the whole thing up. But once we did, there was a veritable treasure trove of games there, on the Windows 95 Entertainment pack. After many hours playing the games there, we still remember them fondly even to this day: Chip’s Challenge (which only recently got a sequel!), Ski Free (a downhill skiing game in which every round ended with your skier being consumed by a frightening yeti, perhaps my first-ever memento mori), Pipe Dream (my unwitting introduction to a concept with which I’ve become sadly familiar over the years), a game involving solving simple math puzzles to break out of a castle (whose name escapes me), Rodent’s Revenge (which I could never quite figure out), and Jezzball (which my sister was somehow much better at than I; I could never figure out why).

Memory can be a frustratingly arbitrary thing, which explains why some of my most treasured experiences I can recall only hazily now, yet without even looking them up I can rattle off the names of these games (save one). Anyway, my siblings and I have our fond recollections of this experience, but my main impression of it all now is the quaintness: Little did we know that, merely a few years later, our lives were to become awash in technology, that we would soon carry in our pockets computers much more powerful than the one on which we played.

At the time, we treated that laptop as, essentially, a toy, if a strange one; it was out of keeping with the rest of our relatively low-tech mid-’90s lives as children, so that was our best frame of reference for the thing. Often I miss those days, and not simply out of nostalgia. Technology has obviously been a great boon in many ways, solving numerous problems and enabling lots of great things (such as, say, National Review Online). But if it has not itself caused the complication of life in the intervening years, it has certainly accompanied those complications, and exacerbated them, even with its myriad benefits. I sometimes get the impression that technology has advanced at a pace beyond what the human mind can healthily comprehend and adapt to. It can be enough to make me want to find that laptop (we may still have it somewhere), patiently wait for it to boot up (if it still works), play some Jezzball, and party like it’s 1999.

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