Paul Brislen, Editor. 30 July 2021, 5:43 pm
The first computer I ever owned was a Sinclair ZX-81.
My parents bought it for me for Christmas in, I suspect, 1982. I was very excited. I was 12 years old.
Running a programming language called BASIC, the computer looked like it came from the distant future with its sleek, black plastic wedge shape and touch sensitive keys.
Of course, basic by name, basic by nature and its limited RAM (1KB was all you got on board) and lack of a hard drive (seriously now) meant junior me could do nothing with it.
Nothing. It was a paperweight to me.
Eventually I sold it to a guy at my school who had a 16K RAM pack that meant he could actually type in programmes (copied from a magazine!) but the RAM pack would get hot and fall out at inappropriate times. Sadly one wet Midlands day he set fire to the curtains after wedging the RAM pack up against the window sill to keep everything in place, and that was that.
My second computer didn’t arrive in my life until after I’d left university. Yes, I managed to exist through most of a BA without any kind of computer aide, although a flatmate did have a Mac which nobody was allowed to touch or, indeed, turn off. Our power bills were horrendous.
No, I’d left university, worked in various bars and restaurants and had applied for a job as a subtitling editor at TVNZ. The job involved a lot of watching television (yay!) and writing up the dialogue in caption form for those viewers who either couldn’t hear or who were learning English.
This meant you had to type quickly, and this was something I could not do. Once I’d bluffed my way into the job (don’t ask) I borrowed a friend’s Mac and my mother’s “Learn to Type” book (so old it had a section on correct posture for a clean carriage return) and began with ASDF and HJKL.
It wasn’t until I started at Computerworld as a junior reporter that I actually got my own computer. I was well into my late 20s by then.
I’m telling you all this as a long ambling introduction to why I have stayed in this industry as long as I have.
Today’s IT industry is literally are the work of science fiction. Forget a computer in every home, I’ve got one in every pocket. Laptops are rapier thin, relatively cost effective and can connect me with all the world’s knowledge, and quite a few of its idiots.
In the past decade we’ve seen so much change and development and so much opportunity emerge that I wonder what 12-year-old me would make of it all. Some of it is deeply banal (“Look, I have my calendar on my phone!”) but some of it is wondrous.
I regularly make video calls on a slab of glass and plastic, can track my kids when they’re out late at night, arrange for a driver to pick them up, pay my bills, learn to play the piano, write a screenplay, study chemistry, play games, read the paper, argue with strangers and sometimes change the world, and I can do that at home, on the bus, in the office, at the beach or just about anywhere else.
It’s the next big thing that is the next big thing for me. I have no idea what will be just around the corner. I couldn’t have predicted TikTok but it’s hilarious. I have no clue as to what the world will look like in five years’ time, let alone 50, and that’s tremendously exciting.
I’m also telling you this because this is my last column for Techblog. From next week the fantastic Peter Griffin will be much more thoughtful and connected and will no doubt beguile and entertain you with his words. I’ve had a fantastic run of it here and loved sharing my thoughts and concerns and sometimes my outrage with you all.
Thanks to the readers who took the time to comment, especially the ones who disagreed – you know who you are – and a huge thank you to Brendan Boughen for the fantastic cartoons as well. Our process is slightly odd – I write this late on a Thursday then Brendan stays up all night turning it a glorious cartoon, extracting the humour from it and finding a new facet of the story to polish up. It never fails to amaze me.
And thanks to Paul Matthews and the wonderful team at ITP for the opportunity to tell a few tales, share a few yarns and to thump the pulpit a few times.
As someone said a few years ago, “The Doctor may change but the TARDIS stays the same,” and while that’s not true any longer, I think it still applies here. The writer may be different and the stories will evolve, but the journey is still the fun part.
Best wishes to you all.
Paul Brislen finishes at TechBlog and Newsline today, to take up the CEO role at the Telecomms Carriers Forum. He’s sure going to be missed around here! Peter Griffin is taking on the Editor role from next week.