Defend Your (Tech) Geek Age

By  |  Monday, May 18, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Growing up, how did technology treat your generation? Did your maturation sync perfectly with the world’s technological advances, or did you arrive too late (or too early) for the best and biggest developments?

I’m stealing this idea from Raph Koster, designer of the classic PC game Ultima Online, who ponders whether his birth year of 1971 made for the perfect “geek age.” For example, he saw Star Wars in theaters 13 times, played pinball machines in real arcades and “got an 8-bit computer at exactly the age when boys get obsessive about details.”

Koster wrote that he feels sorry for people born 10 years earlier or later than he, but falling into the latter category, I disagree. While his points about comics, science fiction and Dungeons and Dragons are beyond the scope of Technologizer, I’m prepared to argue the merits of my birth year, 1983, as a great time to enter the world of technology and subsequently geek out:

  • I was born early enough to learn a little DOS and appreciate why it became obsolete.
  • Seeing Mario on a scrolling screen blew my mind. When he turned 3D, the magic hadn’t yet faded.
  • I made friends in arcades by cooperating on games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men — our idols, by the way.
  • At 10, Jurassic Park’s animatronic dinosaurs genuinely terrified me. At 16, I felt so cool sneaking into The Matrix.
  • Peer-to-peer file-sharing, legal and otherwise, took off when I was in high school and college, the perfect age to inhale mass quantities of music.
  • In college, I used AOL Instant Messenger to ping friends down the dormitory hall or across campus.
  • By graduation, Facebook had taken off and staying in touch was made easy.
  • Being 26 and computer-savvy has become more cool than geeky anyway. Not everyone is frightened to hear that I write about video games and tech for a living.

Now, let’s hear about your geek age. Was it better than mine or Raph Koster’s?


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Barnes Says:

    Perfectly comfortable with that.
    The Sputnik launch in 1957 meant that I got a great math and science education in junior and senior high school.
    It meant that I got to program my first computer (an IBM 1620 running FORTRAN) in 1965.
    It meant that I got a great engineering education.
    For 44 years I have had some involvement with computers and still do as I build websites.
    I did see one of the first ARPAnet nodes installed, but no one thought that the purpose would morph into shopping and looking at porn.

  2. drew Says:


    Saw men on the moon as a 6 year old, at 13 saw Apple II computers in the classroom (one per classroom, maybe 10 in the whole school) and Star Wars in the theater. We also had a company donate an old mainframe computer (complete with the yellow paper teletype).

    Saw Tron when I was 17. Entered the Navy in 1985, got to play computers on the desktop; got a job in a college computer lab and worked with Macs and PC; had my first e-mail address in 1985.

    I don’t see how growing up 10 (or 15 or 25 years) before Koster would be “worse” off.

    I feel like I grew up with the PC, while someone like Dave grew up with the mainframe. I think we will see a whole bunch of posts, and each post will be as legitimate as the other. Jared makes some great points, but I think someone from every age could make those points.

    I might also offer up my son, who is now 9, and looks at me like I must have grown up in the stone age when I tell him that there was no Internet (in the sense a 9 year would understand) when I was a kid.

    I teach 9th graders, and they cannot imagine a world without cell phones.

    If you go back far enough, I remember the evening news being all there was; there was also morning and afternoon editions of major newspapers in larger metro areas.

    When hostage crisis took place in 1979, you had to wait for the evening news to get an update. You might get an hourly report on news radio, but the news cycle was not up to the minute.

    Now, if there is breaking news, the TV is the last place I turn, unless it is a local weather issue. I hop on line and check CNN or something along those lines.

    I think the best example (Dave, would you agree?) of how this has changed is the Gulf War in 1991. We got a live feed from Baghdad from CNN as it was happening; for those who watched Vietnam on the evening news (I was 11 when Saigon fel, and I grew up in a very news hungry family). Seeing war live was a new experience.

  3. Thomas Traub Says:

    I was ten when I saw them doing their jumps in the dust of the moon in TV – on our first TV set (in Germany), very important, assuring (a vain belief) that things will never be the same again.

    I refused to go to the Bundeswehr, do not believe in this patriot stuff, which does in no way mean that I do not defend my neighbor or my likes.

    I profitted of the then for the first time possible voyages in (western) Europe. I hitchhiked across all possible countries. Jobs were easy to find in Germany. I earned about the same money then for a simple job then I earn today doing sophisticated stuff on the computer.

    I never liked Computers until I got in charge of a Nixdorf server / terminal system at the age of 26, doing business number crunching. I sort of liked the precision and speed (I am very lazy).

    In 1991 I got my first Mac (SE, 8Mhz with 4MB RAM, 20MB HD) and learned PageMaker (a cracked French version) and Photoshop. I had a Laser Printer !
    The following year I open my own DTP shop, since then I am Freelancer.

    I abandoned the print (and the Mac) in the late nineties, learned offline HTML with the exellent SelfHTML on several selfbuilt PC’s.

    Today (back to the Mac) I am developing websites in Flash and PHP, no more printer, no more office, my shop is the web is in my bag.

  4. David Says:


    Apollo 11 moon landing one of my first TV memories.

    Pinball machines and foosball tables in the arcade and then the advent of the first video games. The vector ones (Asteroids, Lunar Lander, Tempest) were my favorites.

    Summer of ’77 seeing Star Wars multiple times.

    Dumb terminal phone-cradle modemed to a time-share PDP-11 and HP-3000 in high school and finally buying my own Apple ][ a few years later.

    My first typesetting job on a Compugraphic Editwriter 7500 (ahhh, 8″ floppy disks and fonts on filmstrips (ca-chunka, ca-chunka)). Later being tasked with trying to write a graphics program for the Apple ][ to drive a color plotter to output spec ads for the Yellow Pages and then being saved in 1985 by the advent of the Mac, LaserWriter, and desktop publishing. (Being a snob for good typography it was painful, though, to live through the early desktop publishing revolution and people’s insistence of putting every font on a single page.)

    Happy I started my skydiving hobby/career *after* the development of modern sport rigs and steerable, square parachutes.

    No regrets about my geek age.

  5. Lorenz Gude Says:


    Mixed bag. I was bemused with the punch cards introduced for the registration process at Columbia in the early 60s. I wanted to know more about computers but they were behind many barriers for English majors like me. In the 80s I was an early adopter buying a luggable sewing machine called a Chamelion. Wrong choice. I would have been better off with the first Compaq lugable – but fell for the extra 5.25 inch floppy drive and missed the sharper screen on the Compaq! It came with DOS 1.2 if I remember correctly. I remember reading an article in PC world about how DOS 2.0 was going to be Unix. What the PC did for me is liberate my writing because word processors let you separate composition from editing. I had an awful time with writer’s block before that. I think I was just a bit old to get into programming – past that age where the human brain can obsess with details, but a lot of opportunities I missed through my own fault. Like blogging. As a media academic I saw immediately that weblogs were a significant innovation and utterly failed to just start writing on the web. How could I be that dumb? Still, I love tech and read about and listen to podcasts about it all the time. I’m really glad I experienced the computer revolution at any age.

  6. Harry McCracken Says:

    I was born in 1964, which means that I was one of the very first teenagers who was exposed to personal computers. (I sort of missed out on the Altair, but encountered the TRS-80, Apple II, and Commodore Pet when they were new and exciting.) I used to dial into the world’s first BBS; I happened to attend the first public showing of the first spreadsheet, Visicalc, at the first user group meeting I attended; I saw my first Steve Jobs demo before Jobs was very well known; I got to use computers back when they were Model T-like appliances which a reasonably smart user could know inside and out. I feel blessed to have been there, and still miss certain aspects of prehistoric personal computing, such as tiny computer stores run by people who loved PCs.


  7. Backlin Says:

    Wow, I’m pretty late to the party.


    Let’s see… well, my elementary school got some Apple IIcs, and I got to play with one of the first Mac models ever made. All of my friends and I engaged in the peer-to-peer thing when that took off (although we did it LAN and LAN-emulation style (with Hamachi)). The XP-Vista transfer will probably be a significant part of my geek-olescence.

    I guess the most significant geek-related thing about people near my geek age is watching the evolution of game consoles. I remember vividly that gaming used to be a solitary affair. I got excited over the fact that I got to watch Mario jump from one platform to another on a 13″ tube television. Now, we’re networking gaming consoles and PCs together and embarking in massive shootouts or explorations on nothing less than a 20″ widescreen LCD computer monitor or a 40″ widescreen LCD television.

  8. Tim Conneally Says:

    1978… chiming in from the cusp of “net.gen”

    I was brought home from the hospital three weeks after my siblings got their first Atari 2600.

    I was socialized in the golden age of video arcades, when smoking was allowed and every grocery, drug, and convenience store had an arcade machine of some sort.

    My family had Intellivision PlayCable (on-demand video games delivered on a Cable sideband.)

    I used a 300 Baud pulse modem to dial into the public library’s PINE system, and then a 600 Baud HesModem for downloading cracked Commodore 64 software to trade with friends.

    Being extremely excited about Fast Hack’em 4.

    I used Apple ][‘s in classrooms and had a school computer lab full of networked IBM PS/2 model 25’s (I think that’s the number…) where we had to learn all the hotkeys of Wordperfect 5.1.

    I associated with people who carried around Yak Baks for “Phreaking” pay phones.

    The first time I was on a broadband connection was at age 16 on an SGI Unix Workstation at my brother’s college computer lab. I walked in before noon and didn’t come out until after midnight.