Friday, 26 April 2013

Kids Tech 80s Style

Since we're on the topic of kids and technology, I thought I'd cover my experience of technology when I was a kid and the huge impact it had on me.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s and my early years were fairly gadget-free, but if you compare with just a few decades earlier then I guess there was quite a bit of technology around.  We had a telephone with a dial in our house (which my parents considered to be very fancy and modern.) We had a black and white television (with kids programs for an hour or two a day.) My Mum had a washing machine and a radio, and my Dad had a record player.

The record player had the biggest impact on me. My Dad only had about 10 albums and most of them were by Johnny Cash. I'm a lifelong Johnny Cash fan!

Later I got a Casio electronic calculator which you could play games on. I must have spent hours and hours playing with that.

A quick search shows that it was probably a Casio MG-880 (or similar model) which came out in 1980. It seems that lots of other people have fond memories of this calculator. And don't you just love YouTube. There it is. Mine was in a black case that flipped open.

I also had a tabletop space invaders game with a screen and Joystick. (Or did it belong to my cousin? All my memories of it seem to be at our Grandmother's house.) Again a websearch does the trick: it was the Grandstand Astro Wars from 1981.

And again I've been able to find a video. I remember those sounds well!

My best friend at primary school had one of those ping-pong games that you plugged in to the TV. I was very much in awe of that :-)

I was part of the first generation where electronic gadgets like this were widely available. It's pretty tame by today's standards. But electronic games were part of my life by the time I was 8 or 9.

I do remember asking for, and getting, a tape recorder / player for my birthday and being able to listen to music and audio book tapes. I only had a few of each and would play them over and over again. (No Spotify or Overdrive back then!)

We didn't have a VCR or a microwave. My Dad was not one to spend money on fancy gadgets.

In 1982 he completely surprised us by coming home just before Christmas with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16k that he had bought from W H Smith.

I'm still shocked that he spent so much money on it. But I'm very grateful that he did. I don't think it's overstating things to say that that small black box with the rubbery keys changed the course of my life.

It was intended as a gift for the whole family. My Dad thought he'd like to learn to program so he had also bought a book on learning Spectrum BASIC. He lost interest quickly, but at 10 years of age I learnt to program.

I used to write maths games for my younger sister and make her play them (sorry!) I designed sprites and simple games and applications. I copied in programs from the bundle of C&VG magazines I found in a charity shop. I peeked and poked.

(I'm still upset that my Mum gave away the Spectrum when I was away at University. I would have kept it forever.)

I went on to save up for and buy an Amiga A500 which I still have (thankfully, I took that to University with me.) And that was it, I was on the path to a career in computing and becoming a life-long gadget lover.  We did not learn IT at school other than a bit of word processing and playing an occasional game on the BBC Micros. It was my experience of home computers that lead me to computing at university.

All this technology felt pretty cutting edge at the time. I was aware that it was new and exciting.

Tomorrow's World was regular viewing in our house. We watched it in black and white though, we didn't have a colour TV until I was much older.

Wow that was a nostalgic trip back to my childhood. I was expecting to write about how little technology was around then. But actually, I had my share of gadgets and used them regularly.

The lack that really stands out is the internet. There were bulletin boards around but I didn't have permission to run up a phone bill using them!

My kids certainly have access to more gadgets that I did. But I think the access they have to information has a far greater impact. If they have a question they can just look up the answer. I would have loved that so much.

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