Back in 1975, myself and a small group of other Ham Radio nerds in my area took to building Altair 8800 computer kits. It was offered to hobbyists as the “first home computer” and even though none of us thought that we really needed a computer, our curiosity as to what we could get this thing to do got the best of us.
After getting the unit assembled and running, we would compare notes on what we were able to accomplish with this new contraption. Most of the initial results were programming it to become a random number generator or make it into a number guessing game. Some of the guys just wrote a small program that would flash the front panel lights in order to impress their friends. As we progressed in our knowledge, we were able to program the unit to become a security system for the house, along with controlling the lawn and garden sprinklers based on soil humidity. When we ran into issues with programming the unit, we would call MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, who made the kits) and talk with Bill Gates, Paul Allen, or Monte Davidoff who were then the creators of the Altair BASIC computer language.
I finally devoted mine to monitoring the weather (wind direction/speed, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and rain amount). I ended up (as did most of the other guys) retiring the Altair computer for an Apple ][+, which opened up all sorts of new possibilities. The Apple was not only easier to program, but had new features like color graphics and allowed the connection of a joystick to play games with. The biggest advance was the ability to connect a pair of inexpensive floppy disk drives for storage, rather than trying to save programs on an audio cassette recorder or paper tape as we did with the Altair. We could also now install option cards that would allow features like converting text to speech. After we worked out the bugs (such as using the word ”kernel” instead of “Colonel” to avoid hearing the phrase “colon-el” come out of the speaker) we were now letting our computers carry on conversations over ham radio, which must have drove the other listeners batty.
As computers continued to advance during the years in both speed and memory capabilities, the operating systems became more “user friendly”, which really meant that they were becoming more geared toward the neophyte user. This resulted in the computer (and author of the software) having more control over the user than before, along with the user having less control over the computer. The introduction of the Internet opened a new door on privacy issues that were offered under the guise of better ways to communicate with others or a quick way to search for anything. Now large corporations were able to collect data from users and either use it for themselves to create databases or sell the data to other customers for profit. Most of the users of these services never read into the details of the user agreements contained on “detail pages” that stated in loosely interpretable terms about how their data was going to be used and who had access to it. As an example, Facebook began asking users to include their cell phone number in their profile that “would only be used to contact the user” by Facebook. They then introduced the “Track Nearby Friends” cell phone locater feature. One can only imagine how this data is being used by Facebook’s customers to track users every move for marketing purposes, driving habits (especially useful for auto insurance companies) and even private investigators to name just a few. Of course, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has stated that “Privacy is no longer a social norm” and has done his best to try and open up everyone’s private lives to everybody.
I believe it was a Google executive that stated “People who use Gmail and other free email systems have no reasonable expectation of privacy”. As new updated operating systems and “Apps” are introduced, it seems that they just become more and more invasive into our lives on purpose.
We are now at a time where we need to decide if we want to preserve what is left of our privacy or just give in and allow everyone including corporations and governments to gather up every bit of information that they can about us. The technology that we developed to supposedly make our lives easier has virtually taken over our lives.
Computers are no longer “fun” as they were in the heyday.