My computer is my friend. It keeps me in contact with my real friends, introduces me to new ones and keeps track of my life. It has taught me to type. It changed my life in 1000 ways. I am truly grateful to the computer for being so all-encompassing. And I wish it had come sooner.

When I was a little girl living in Luxembourg and dependent on the US Mail for my contact with friends in the USA I fantasized about a way for all of us to “find out everything”. I did not know how to express it, exactly, but I knew it would be marvelous. I asked my mother why there could not be a way to discover whatever you wanted to know ‘all in one place’.

She answered, “You can find out everything about the world in the Library.” She had a point, but I meant personal things, and just convenient things as well as general knowledge. I said,” But how about knowing what is playing at the movies, and who is driving into town, a way to talk to people and find out what is going on with them all in one place along with all the knowledge.”

Her answer has stayed with me over the years. She said “Oh that would be impossible. There is no way you could have all of that in one place.” And I subsided, disappointed. Deep down it felt like waiting, waiting for something I felt in my soul was coming somehow.

When computers came to be I was way behind. I feared them. They were really difficult to work with their punch cards and they were huge and not something a private person could have at home. But I was fascinated by a movie I saw called the Desk Set with Kathryn Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It was all about some women who worked with a huge computer that filled a room top to bottom. But it could give answers to almost any question. Bingo! That was beginning to be what my idea was about, but still not practical.

Later my son had one of the early personal computers. It was an APPLE II. And it was all very mysterious. He was involved in a world completely strange to me. It was as if he had learned a different language. Later still I became a real estate agent and then a Broker but I always asked my assistant to bring me information from the bulky cumbersome computers (which had no screens) that our office needed for the new modern real estate listings. They terrified me.

They were everywhere. Ubiquitous. Unnerving. When going to the airport to take the shuttle to New York we had to get tickets from a machine that was sort of a computer. It scared me. When watching a movie the screen would dissolve into a computer screen and the stars of the show would be using these as part of the plot. I did not understand what was going on. But one thing was clear. Computers were here to stay.

Also, this thing called the World Wide Web interested me. It was easy for me to grasp the concept of what that entailed. I didn’t understand the 1s and 0s, but I understood the implications. To me, it all seemed very familiar. It seemed as if it was a way of finding out everything just as I had dreamed of back in Luxembourg. It was not yet a smooth ride. But each innovation helped to build the information highway and I cheered that on.

16-year-old me in my first car 1958

When I was 16 and old enough to pass my driver’s test and be given a license to drive a car I was ecstatic. I could not imagine anyone not wanting to have this marvelous license to freedom. Everyone I knew wanted to drive. However, I knew people who could not go anywhere on their own. Neither my grandmother nor my boyfriends’ grandmother knew how to drive. They were fortunate that they both had chauffeurs. But still, the idea that they had to be driven instead of being able to just hop into a car seemed so restrictive. “Why don’t they learn to drive NOW?” I asked my mother. And she said “Oh! They are too old to learn now.” I suspect that they were still in their mid-60s at the time. Hardly what I would call old today. But they never learned. And I resolved to do better. In fact, my answer was emphatic, “I would NEVER let that happen to me!” I said.

As I approached my 50th birthday the whole thing about computers was weighing on me. It was obvious to me that they were not going away. If I continued to treat them like rattlesnakes I would never learn how to use one. I remembered “the grandmothers” and knew this was a similar situation. I did not want to have to be “driven” so to speak when trying to utilize a computer. It was imperative that I learn how for myself.

Near my 50th birthday, my mother called me and told me she wanted to buy some Elizabeth Locke jewelry. I thanked her but said instead ” I have a lot of jewelry already, Mother. What I would really like you to buy me is a computer. (And a printer)”

And she said “EWWW! How ugly!” But she said she would do it. I called my oldest son and asked him what I should buy. He gave me a list of components. And he said, “Be sure to buy a 486 NOT a 386.”

This was in the days of a 386 or a 486. We did not have Pentium computers yet. I went to the Comp USA Store which is out of business now. In my hand was my handwritten list of things I needed, including a keyboard, mouse, extra memory, and the computer itself which was a PC, not an APPLE. My son thought it would be a better choice for me because there was so much more software available. Of course, the salesman saw me as a complete idiot. He said you don’t really need that 486. Buy this 386 with a booster chip and it was nearly $1000 cheaper so I did.

I brought the computer home and got the local computer genius to set it up and show me how to work it. He showed me how to play solitaire online. Oh, yes! I forgot to mention, I had never learned how to type. So the man who set up my computer showed me Mavis Beacon teaches typing on the computer. I practiced that every night, taking little tests and gaining confidence and speed all the time.

laptops are light and powerful today

It was a time of open source everything and the World Wide Web was accessed by strange-sounding groups and chats and half the time I had no idea what was happening or where I was. And then AOL appeared on the scene. Training wheels for those learning about how to use the computer to explore the Internet. It was fantastic except they made us pay for the time we spent online. That was terrible. Bills were huge and many people cheated by using a free month and then leaving and changing their name and coming back. It was a silly time. I knew that if they would just make it free EVERYONE would jump onboard. And eventually, they did. I believe the influx of people crashed their site more than once. It was worth it though because the world began to be connected. The WORLDWIDE WEB became simply the Internet. All those letters and colons and forward slashes became just the name of whatever you want plus dot com. Such as Google.com or BonnieBMatheson.com

And then we were given the smartphone. Hallelujah! We were able to hold in our hands all the power we could ever have imagined. And all the information from literature, to politics, religion to anti-government, friends and family connected in ways unheard of before this miracle occurred. And “the rest is history.”

Copyright?. 2020 Bonnie B. Matheson

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