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return to spacewar

I’m reading Fred Taylor’s fascinating book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, and I got to thinking about when I first became aware of the possibility of computers as something you could have in your home. No, that’s not it … computers as something cool that you would want in your home.

I can remember the first times I saw computers in people’s homes. Robin’s cousin had a Xerox back in 1982, friends in Berkeley had an Apple II I think, not sure what year, and we went to a party in L.A. around the same time where the host had a TRS-80. Our own first computer, a VIC-20, arrived in ‘83 or ‘84, not sure which. Well, I saw the movie War Games right about when it came out in June of ‘83, and I had a VIC-20 by then because that movie made me want a modem really really badly, so it must have been Spring of 1983 or so. And I know I was obsessed with that computer from the moment we got it … I remember believing it thought “just like me.”

So, early 1983. Except I’m not trying to figure out when I got a computer, I’m trying to figure out when computers seemed cool. And I don’t have any idea.

Until … in the book I’m reading, I’m up to 1972. And Taylor spends a few pages talking about a article in Rolling Stone that was very influential in some circles. It was written by Stewart Brand, and it was called “Spacewar: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums” (follow the link and you can read the article). It appeared in the December 7, 1972 edition.

I read Rolling Stone religiously in those days, and as soon as I saw the mention in Taylor’s book, my memory clicked. I remembered the article. Not the details, just the part where I read it and thought, wow, computers are cool.

So now I know, within a few weeks, anyway, since magazines always seem to come out earlier than the date on the cover. Sometime shortly before Pearl Harbor Day in 1972, I found out that computers were cool.

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