Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 115 / DECEMBER 1989 / PAGE 4



You know the type: "I didn't buy my computer to have fun. I bought it so I could work more efficiently." Right. This is the same person who buys a Mazda Miata to drive to the grocery store and back. No Sunday spins down tree-lined mountain roads, no wide-open bursts on deserted highways, no slow cruises past coveting neighbors.

Well, that's all right. It takes all kinds to fill the computing world. I also bought my computer to become more productive. The funny thing is, I soon discovered that operating a computer meant more than working faster—it also meant having fun. And I'm not talking about games. I mean the sheer exhilaration of writing almost as fast as my mind can produce ideas. It's my personal Freedom of Information Act. Writing is still hard work, but I enjoy it more than ever.

Sure, it was romantic when I hacked out stories on that 1927 Royal that my mother had discovered at a garage sale. And it was terribly inspiring years later when I wrote drafts in longhand on yellow legal pads at the kitchen table because I was afraid that typing would wake my newborn son. But fun? You've got to be kidding.

Home computers get a bum rap from some high-powered types who see them as a waste of technology. If a computer isn't planning a waste-treatment facility or producing Technicolor profit-and-loss statements, then it's just an overpriced calculator/typewriter, goes the logic.

I don't buy it. We may be endowed with a need for useful activity, but our mental and physical health is equally dependent on pleasurable pursuits. If we're lucky, we live balanced on this fulcrum between responsibility and relaxation. Sometimes, we want to have fun.

Researchers have come to recognize the ways that different kinds of mental activities can lead to break-throughs in creative thinking. In my own experience, I know that a short run or a walk can free me from the writer's frustration of missing the connection between ideas that comprises a finished piece. Away from the desk I am open to new perspectives, any of which may supply the vital link that can close an argument or open a speculation.

The point to this digression is that home computer users, or especially people who are considering buying their first computer, shouldn't fall for the argument that owning one is a waste of time. (Some people think napping is a waste of time, but Samuel Coleridge woke from such a slumber to write Kubla Khan.)

I would rather see personal computers become more "friendly" than see their horsepower boosted another notch. Granted, it takes a ton of money and a lot of dedication to write software that maximizes the current state of computer hardware; likewise, it's no picnic to build the hardware that will see personal computing into the next century. But if computer makers and software developers want a real challenge, I suggest they figure out how to increase home computer ownership. Quit selling to the same people and start opening home market channels—it's good business.

They can start by making personal computers fun to use—for everyone. Not just faster action for the arcade junkie, and not just more tangled webs for the dungeon dreamers. What we want is an immediately approachable computer for the working mother of two, an open-armed machine for the budding artist, a computer for the curious grandfather, a complete home system for the modern-day Luddites who so far have resisted accepting the personal computer into their homes.

Aside from widening the scope of the home computer market, software companies might look toward softening the look of computers in the business world. Instead of racing pell-mell toward the next performance plateau, perhaps computer makers could devise new metaphors, new ways for businesspeople to see their world—and thus encourage the creative thinking that was once the heart of the American dream. Everybody talks about being competitive, but you can't get there from here unless you're able and willing to free your imagination from the workaday grind.

We're making some progress. The graphics interface employed so successfully on the Macintosh has migrated across the board to other systems. Even business power users are looking to products like Windows to ease the transition into high-octane DOS computing. Joysticks have recently become available for the PS/2 Micro Channel Architecture systems, and an agreement between Sierra and IBM to bundle select games with Model 25 and 30 PS/2 systems makes two points: A home market for PCs exists, and even Big Blue takes off the power tie sometimes.

The personal computer can go down in history as the millstone of the late twentieth century or as the single most liberating technology since movable type. But that's the interesting thing about history: When you were a kid reading about the past from a schoolbook, it all seemed terribly dull; but to those people living then it was undoubtedly the most exciting era humankind had ever known. I bet it was a lot of fun, too.