Gen-X Spent Half Their Lives Without Personal Computers

I am a member of the bridge generation. We are the people who got to live through both the computer age and the pre-computer age. I am officially a “baby boomer” but I identify more with the slightly later group of Gen-Xers.

Back in the “olden days”, we had a few electric typewriters, and calculators and a few companies had desktop computers in the 80s but for the first 27 years of my life just about everything was done on paper, and files were kept in metal cabinets in companies and medical offices.

I had a “paste-up” job for a local newspaper called the Tab in Boston MA while I was in college and used a stat machine and ran the paper through the wax machine to stick real bits of type and images on my ad layouts.

I had to search through filing cabinets full of old waxy advertisements to update them for the weekly paper. As a freelance graphic artist, I sent instructions to typesetters back when the type was set with real metal and not done digitally.

I now own 6 screens and I love every one of them!

Back in the 1960s and 70s, all we had was a small little 15-inch TV that we didn’t watch that much because there were only 4 channels back in the 1970s. Channel 4 was ABC, NBC was channel 7 and 9 was the educational channel with Mister Rogers and Masterpiece Theater and 11 was CBS I think, and sketchy at best maybe it was news and weather.

Cable TV didn’t exist until I was in college, and I never bothered to get cable or to own a TV until I moved in with roommates who had it.

I had a disdain for TV and thought it was mostly low-brow mind rot though I have always loved movies and some TV shows.

I carried a sketch pad, a notebook, and books to read in my backpack with me most of the time. In art school, I wrote out my notes in my illegible scribble, did term papers in the library on the antique black Wedgewood typewriter with its gold filigree that they allowed students to use on-site only.

I would literally cut and paste my notes together with scotch tape and then type out the finished product to turn in. My term papers were intellectually stimulating, but replete with typos, miss-spellings, and plastered with something we called “white out” because I was terrible at spelling, I still am.

Somehow I managed to get A’s on my term papers even with my terrible spelling because I knew how to entertain my teachers and gave them a chuckle in their long dreary days of reading and grading term papers.

I have always detested the lack of logic in English spelling. I know that these spellings originate from Latin, Sanskrit, and Germanic roots. I appreciate that there is beauty in keeping the ‘gh’ in through and the silent K and ‘gh’ in knight because it shows us where the word originally came from.

It’s cruel to students of English as a foreign language and just plain self-centered of English speakers to make the language so difficult for everyone else to read and write.

Written English should all be changed to a phonetic system like Spanish. ‘Phonetic” would be spelled “fonetic” exactly the way it sounds.

But now that I have Grammarly, Microsoft Word, and Google docs to triple-check all my writing, final drafts are much cleaner than back in the days of the gold filigree Wedgwood typewriter.

In college, there was one digital painting class using clumsy interfaces on a pc in DOS. And there was a Mac lab that was always empty. I spent all my time using MacPaint and MacDraw in the mac lab all alone. I hated the ugly pixilated images that came out of the DOS program and preferred the clean mathematical Bezier linework of the mac interface.

Right after college in 1988, I worked at a branch of Sun Microsystems in Boston on a computer graphics program created for mathematics before the company was shut down. For a week I got to learn the program and played with object-oriented graphics and Bezier curves.

My boss told me to just stay on until the place shut down officially. So I sat in my cubical and edited a children’s novel I had been working on at the time and got paid for another 3 weeks.

I was part of one of the first software startups to tank. I learned firsthand how bullshit corporate busy-work jobs operated. I was surprised that you often got paid more for not working or pretending to work than you did for doing real useful tangible things.

I got my first personal computer in 1991 8 years after college when I was 32, it was one of the tiny little bread-box-sized Apple Macintosh computers.

I gradually became more engaged in doing everything on the computer. I’m all over the place with different brands having no loyalty to Mac or PC or Android products. I use everything shamelessly. I am fearless about trying different systems and brands.

After the first Mac became obsolete I bought a Sanyo laptop that was five times as heavy as anything they make now. Then I had a couple of HP desktop monitors that were big and clunky with giant towers sitting on the floor. Finally, I built my own tower and used it for 3D modeling before it became obsolete.

Soon the MacBook was strong enough to run all my graphic programs and a mac version of Microsoft word for writing. So there was no need for bulky towers anymore.

I was slow to adopt the smartphone and kept a flip phone stubbornly until my job required more texting and using apps downloaded from the app store.

Gradually I began using the computer for shopping and writing and started my first WordPress blogs and banking and even creating art.

I stumbled upon the first sites making money online with affiliate marketing and failed dreadfully to do affiliate niche sales with several early sites I coded myself. Then I tried and failed to become a coder and then discovered 3D modeling, motion graphics, and freelance writing and found my place in the world of computers.

A few years ago I gave up my oils, acrylics, and canvases, and sculpting supplies for the digital versions and have not regrated it too much. With all the moves I have had over the years it is so much easier to just store my files on the cloud and not drag around sculpture and paintings.

Shortly after I got my touch screen phone I got so used to touching and dragging that I tried it on a paper book one day accidentally and laughed at myself. Then I began hearing stories of small children who try this with paper books all the time and are puzzled by the lack of response from a real book.

I have had dreams where the hidden menu bar on my mac book will not come up no matter what I tried. Lots of little computer interface activities have no doubt change the way my brain is wired that I am not even aware of.

So what are my six screens you might ask?

First and foremost, there is the trusty Lenovo laptop that I bought to replace my MacBook five years ago at Best Buy. I absolutely love this computer. It is built like a tank. It has been dropped on its side and has a duct-taped corner, but it continues to work perfectly and updates itself periodically without any effort on my part.

The Lenovo goes everywhere with me. It came with me in the van and the car for the two years I was sleeping in the car and working on my freelance writing and graphics career in the public library after work every day.

I would do Uber or Doordash morning and evening and sit at the library in San Francisco or Palo Alto from 1 pm to 5 pm. Then I brought it to work at a sales job selling hot tubs and coded a couple of new WordPress sites during the slow times.

Now it sits at my standing desk for writing freelance articles. I use it for education with the many courses I own: TEFL certification to teach English online, freelance health writing, marketing art and writing, motion graphics, painting, meditation courses, my nutrition coaching certification course, banking, email, shopping online, and more that I can’t even track or remember.

The Lenovo comes to bed with me at night sometimes to watch movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney plus which I cycle through and then cancel in anger after spending too much time watching movies instead of working. Now and then I go on YouTube for silly videos by Russel Brand or Awaken with JP.

Then there is the new mac desktop model that is dedicated to making art and graphics, using programs like adobe photoshop, illustrator, for design and illustration Adobe Audition, and Adobe Premiere and Blender for 3D.

I have a Logitech roller ball that I use for the PC and a regular mouse for the mac and along with its companion tablet, screen number 3 the x-pen artist 13.3 pro that replaced my tiny Wacom tablet. It isn’t as good as a pro Wacom which I am saving for, but it does a decent job for a direct draw tablet.

So sometimes I am on three screens at once. There is an educational video on Skillshare ctrlpaint or Paintable or Polygon Runway on the Lenovo while I work on the mac using my direct draw tablet.

Then there is the trusty aristo 4 android phone that replaced my flip phones, the apple phone, and the 5 Android phones that came after that. My cheapo Aristo 4 android goes on walks with me when I listen to podcasts, and in the car for podcasts and mapping my journeys, and for Pandora of course when I teach Pilates at a studio in Silicon Valley.

It is useful while I am waiting in line when I want to continue reading and learning from my stash of kindle books or for browsing the internet for tidbits on science, buying tickets, shopping on Amazon, or my favorite vegan skincare line. I use it all day long for checking my email and keeping my inbox paired down. I am constantly unsubscribing from emails I got myself into that I don’t have time to read.

Texts come in from my hourly-pay jobs about students who signed up for my Pilates classes that occupy me 20 hours per week and on the Signal app for my little air BNB job 5 or 10 hours a week.

I used to have Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram on the phone, but I have since gotten rid of those apps and rarely use them on the laptop now and then. I have cut way down on my social media in the last few months and do not miss it at all actually. LinkedIn is the only app I use daily now for tracking down more freelance clients.

Almost all of my communication with other humans is done by text on the phone. There is the occasional phone call to mom once a month and a few quick calls to pay my wheelworks credit card which shockingly connects me to an actual human who takes care of posting my payment a couple of times a month. But other than those two human calls everything else is done by text or email or is set up for autopayment.

I check my work schedule from the laptop or the phone and add tasks to my google calendar on either the phone, tablet, or laptop daily. The only time I see people in physical form is at the Pilates studio and the store when I go out to get food, clothing, or other objects. I say hi to the postman and the UPS and Amazon delivery people when I see them.

There is the occasional hike with an acquaintance, but I am so busy trying to figure out how to make a living online teaching English and doing freelance jobs so I can escape Silicon Valley and hourly jobs, that I don’t have much time for socializing right now.

I even own a tiny unsatisfactory amazon kindle that houses the books I had on my amazon account before a scammer caused me to cancel my old account. I lost my history with Amazon that day and all my books and music. Except that this little kindle happened to have about 37 books out of a couple of hundred I bought over the years.

As long as I keep it on airplane mode I still have copies of all those lovely books. I thought I had lost the whole library when I opened a new account and started over.

The laptop, tablet, and phone have kindle libraries of the new books because I connected to the cloud and registered for my new account.

Then there is the new cheap Samsung Galaxy Tab A7 lite, A delightful new tablet that houses my new amazon books and allows me to check email from bed without bringing the bigger Lenovo laptop to bed with me.

The new tablet is useful for watching Pilates videos from the studio I teach at while I am on the reformer TRX and other equipment practicing new moves for teaching.

I adore all my screens.

But I end up spending all my time interacting with screens instead of real people. Work, leisure, reading, writing, creating paintings, videos and motion graphics, and 3D models are all things I do on my screens.

How do we work and live with screens without becoming robotic out-of-touch zombies?

I love the exactness and control I can get using computer programs to create drawings, paintings, and sculptures. I love dragging my hand-drawn sketches into photoshop and blender and adapting them to heights I could never have dreamed of before these programs existed.

I love having all the information and experts to interview in the English language available to me to research for writing freelance articles at my fingertips.

But sometimes it is all too much. I have too much to read and too many courses and projects to ever finish in one lifetime. I have had to learn to limit myself from signing up for too many educational courses and programs at one time, so I don’t become overwhelmed and scattered.

After I finished art school I used to spend most of my time alone painting and writing. Dance, yoga, Pilates, and community college courses have always been ways I have been dragged out into the company of others.

But as I got into my fifties when people naturally tend to meet fewer new people the computer became more ubiquitous, and I started taking most of my courses online and even working online more.

I love the independence I have with the computer interface. I can buy anything I want online and even interact with interesting experts in many fields but there is a definite sense of isolation that comes when there is a screen between yourself and other people.

I am a natural introvert preferring my own company much of the time. But I am also very naturally overly empathetic, a people pleaser. So I come off as gregarious and outgoing when I am at the Pilates studio always making people feel welcomed there.

Most people think I am extroverted and comfortable in groups and public places but that is just because I have learned to blend in so well because I moved around so much when I was a kid.

I learned to fit in anywhere and everywhere at an early age because getting along with everyone and getting hired easily at any job meant survival.

I cannot imagine how I would have turned out if I had been brought up with screens from birth. My natural tendency to keep to myself and entertain myself for hours on my own would have been much more pronounced and I would have been a very lonely and awkward kid.

I know that this is not a very natural or healthy way to live, and I am in the middle of designing a more balanced life.

I plan on getting a used short bus skoolie to convert to an RV. I will move to a rural spot with an RV community for part of the year until I find and intentional community to join. I plan to go on the road to visit ecovillages, cohousing, and vegan farms and sanctuaries, and scope out permanent communities to join off the grid.

So I will be meeting lots of real people soon. Of course, there will be my six screens and ultramodern mobile internet for teaching English and submitting my freelance jobs from my RV. I will be keeping a blog about my travels no doubt. It will be the best of both worlds I hope!