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COMPUTER LIFE

 

My relationship with the computer began at a very early age, at age 10 which doesn't seem like anything special, but back in 1984 it was.  It was rare for a home to have a computer, normally one would only see computers in a few places, it was not  like today with multiple computers in every business.  I was a poor kid, so owning a computer would have been considered a wasteful luxury, however my introduction to the computer was through my businessman uncle who would give me his hand-me-downs as the technology progressed fairly rapidly, and then less so as the technology began to stabilise.  My first computer, a Sinclair 1000, hooked up to a black and white TV with a cassette tape deck used as a "drive," initiating programmes through actual cassette tapes.  You would need to turn the volume down on the deck or otherwise listen to the squiggly electronic noises.  Eventually I would get a system with a proper disk drive, an upgrade that allowed the system to utilise the DOS oS.  The system also had a cartridge style input like the Atari game systems.  It was fairly easy to write your own programmes, and lacking any money to buy games I learned to write basic games.

I would never consider myself a nerd, but I certainly was a bit of a closeted one.  I found all things digital to be of interest, and recognise that there was certainly a dividing line in my life where had I been given more powerful computers as hand-me-downs I probably would have not become an artist.  I realised this after I watched a naturally talented artist get more deeper into computers than he did in developing a discipline, completely losing interest in his dreams.  

A couple of years into computer as a child I recall the first moment I had seen a modem and found the device intriguing.  The idea that computers could communicate to other computers was as fanciful as it was an exotic concept.  I began to participate in what is essentially the pre internet "internet" known as Bulletin Board Systems, or BBSs.  With my friends we would try to get into the school's system to change our grades, which of course never happened because we would dial into the main phone number, not its data phone line.

 

I even belonged to a networking group that would meet in person at a Pizza Hut once a month, mainly interested in free pizza. 

While it was networking, a BBS was not like the internet.  While the internet allows the freedom of choice as to where and whom you connect with, a BBS was a closed system that allowed you access only to what was on the server, which was only someone's spare computer they left on and put somewhere out of the way.  Your interactions thus was limited to only those who subscribed, and with whatever the System Operator (Sysop) had loaded onto the server.  One needed to subscribe, much like a magazine subscription, in the form of credits, and long distance charges applied.  I recall one friend freaking out because he ran up a phone bill of many hundreds of dollars by dialling into a BBS.  

In truth networking was interesting only in theory, but the lag time was painfully slow.  Sometimes we would download something and come back later that day only to find it was still transferring, and of course by the time the family was home, someone would pick up the phone and disrupt and lay to waste your patience.  We quickly learned that even if a file transfer was completed, it was never worth the anticipation time.  

This did change in the late 1980's and early 1990's when Compuserve and AOL began to dominate the BBS market, doing it better and with far more users than any of the former BBSs we would frequent.  In AOL's case they made an effort to establish phone lines throughout the USA, even in small towns, allowing users to do away with long distant charges that was the bane of any BBS user at the time.  And the amount of people one could connect with meant you weren't stuck chatting about Dungeons and Dragons to some out of the closet nerd.  

The World Wide Web was not available to the public en mass until 1995, in which my first task was to create what we simply called homepages back then, which is still the term used today for a website's main or landing page, but back then the term "website" was less used and more commonly known as a "homepage."

 

I created my first webpage with the help of the librarian at Conde Nast, the publishers of various journals with Vanity Fair being one of their largest, in their basement.  It is possible that had I known coding as I do today (in a limited capacity) I would have been the inventor of the annoying and notorious "Pop-up."  I wanted a navigational page to open while my paintings were loading, which took forever.  However the librarian had no context for what I was asking for.

That's because the "Pop-up" was not yet invented.  In short order I realised that if I wanted a proper webpage I would need to learn code so I could change the images and texts at will, and taught myself HTML and eventually Java.  It is possible that I was one of the first artist to have a webpage, and to also make sales.  Meta tagging was not as important as it would become since there was relatively a low population of websites, but I seized upon it making good use of it.  But my advantage of being an early adopter of the internet was soon made void by the level of saturation the internet saw in just a few short months after it's wide adoption.  I did find ways to work around this however, in my meta tags I used "porn" phrases and key words alongside of the art tags to keep visitors coming to my site.  But even so, anyone who enjoyed being one of the few thousands or few tens of thousands to utilise the internet for promotion would become a virtual needle amongst hundred of thousands haystacks.

I would eventually be making complicated and aesthetic based webpages mainly for fun.  I would even try my hand at a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style of story, but after coding sixty pages and not yet scratching at the plot I abandoned the project.  I would also work for high profile individuals and companies in various roles, People Magazine, The New York Times (as a sub moderator for one of their AOL boards), and others.  Oddly, I never questioned my participation in technology or looked towards it as a career path, it was only a tool to express myself with and nothing more.  

My "company" SVParts is not a real company, it is merely my digital signature to all my graphic arts and web projects.  If it was a real company it would be amongst the oldest web designing companies, beginning in 1995.  For a good amount of years I stayed current in the technology but as I found myself spending as much time sitting on my ass at a desk as I was in my studio, I had to question where I felt my time was being better spent.  I realised that no matter how many books I read that coding was never a language one could master in the same way one would with Spanish or French or Chinese, but rather it was an ongoing perpetual education.

 

My web and graphic arts mainly only served my own limited purposes, and often were never seen by the public.  I would spend a good deal of time studying and then coding and then debugging complicated animations or putting together animated gifs that only I would see.  Eventually I let it go somewhere in 2005, only to return in 2020 utterly lost and relearning and studying old ground to build the website you now see.  Currently it's taken me three months of nearly everyday work for long hours to create the graphics, the webpages, and content you now see, glued to my desk at a time when I really should be finishing paintings for my latest art show.

COMPUTER CULTURE

For many of us those from my generation, the fascination with the computer began with gaming.  Wizardry was a game we played on an Apple IIc...  'c' stood for compact, and in theory one could port the computer around, although it was not really portable in any practical sense of the concept.  The background of this webpage shows an example of where the game was at technologically.  In a very real way the games of my generation required imagination to take over, filling in the gaps of a limited technology.  

For many decades I had watched as the gaming world evolved technologically.  The look and feel of games has surpassed my wildest imagination and is a far cry from the stick figures characters in line drawing backgrounds that only sufficed to represent something.  Focused only on the technology, I never bothered to question gaming's impact on culture and society, or in individual lives.  But something changed in my life that transformed an indifference attitude into one that felt there was something lurking

 

was indifferent to the effect it has on culture, society, and in individual lives.

 

to very realistic renderings in settings that began to get closer and closer to reality.  The focus was always on how well a game looked and played with indifference to the effect it has on culture and in individual lives, but experiences during my mid 30's to 40's began to illuminate aspects that I had never considered before, and I began to ask, "is gaming good for people?"  Let me preface that by acknowledging that gaming isn't bad or good, it's just another form of entertainment.  I will from time to time play a game, but it is limited for rare periods of time usually with the acknowledgment that I need a dose of escapism.