Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Typing in Secret - from Laptop to Touch Phone

In 1990 I bought my very first computer, an IBM compatible laptop (as you said back then) made by Commodore. The C286-LT had an external power supply, disk drive, TFT screen and a motherboard. 

Richard Lagendijk, whose picture of the C286 I'm using to the left, and who must know a lot about these things, says on his website that the motherboard has RAM, ROM and a Harris 80C286 processor, an internal hard disk and 1 Mbyte of RAM memory.
Back in 1990 I stuffed my laptop in a similar carrier bag as you see above, but I hardly ever used it. In those days you didn't advertise the interesting hardware you owned. Even if my pager went off in an Amsterdam café, I'd scurry through the crowd to the restrooms/ pay-phone area, dial my home/office telephone number, press the beeper, and listen to the messages on my answering machine without others being any the wiser. 

To walk around with that black laptop bag would have been a give-away to muggers, I thought. An other reason for not taking my laptop to cafés was my fear that people would think I was a show-off. No really, some people in my circles had a computer, but nobody had a laptop in those days, and if they did, I wasn't aware of it, meaning that they kept theirs out of sight as well.

The bright red cabin bag I bought for my travels held paperwork, as well as the laptop fine. Without wheels or backpack straps it was too heavy to schlepp around from lecture room to performance space at U.T. at Austin. The ladies at the costume shop of the drama department —or the Performing Arts Center where I had my office as guest artist— understood my fear of being spotted with the portable computer —they found me a worn-out army green canvas sheet music bag, just the right size.

Chicken Lunch Break Performance 1992

That my audience would see me read my poems from the screen, didn't bother me. The fold-out table, the calculator paper on which I wrote my poems out in longhand, the floral fabric swatch, and laptop were all part of my presentation, my props; as a performer I felt less a target than as a writer in a public place, focused on the screen,  a sitting duck.  

Even today I don't like to talk on my phone in public. I'll cut a call short, promising to call back when I'm inside my car, home or office. My response when I see people working on their laptops in public places, engulfed in e-books, or talking out loud on phones hidden, but for the ear gems, tells me that I'm from another century. Back when you had to learn MS-DOS to get anywhere with, and on your computer, and the hardware was more exclusive.

In all honesty, I sure am glad computers are more user friendly and accessible today. I may still prefer to take calls in private, I as well write in public quite often, albeit most times hidden from view, all thumbs, creating texts on my touch phone. You could say I'm downsizing, but really, now that I am one of millions of users, I'm less afraid to show that I am with the times.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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