My first computer wasn’t actually mine, but was the first computer I ever saw in person. While touring a surgical unit at Milwaukee County General Hospital in the late 1960’s, our instructor opened a door that was labeled “Computer Room” and we peered in.
The refrigerated room was aptly named, since it was almost completely filled by a computer. Blue, green and red lights blinked from every surface. It looked like something NASA could use to launch a spaceship. Cool. Nothing to do with me, though.
I slowly began to be aware of computers being used in business and industry, and in the mid-1980’s, personal computers (Macintosh, Commodore 64), along with video games (Atari!), began to show up in homes. Even our home had an Amiga computer. It had no color, no graphics and no practical use that I could imagine. So, nothing to do with me.
In 1989 I accepted a position at a large community hospital as a nurse educator in orientation and staff development for the department of surgical services. As part of my job, I began developing lesson plans, lectures, multi-part presentations and posters.
Our department of 12 educators had little secretarial support and one beat-up electric typewriter that was in constant demand. It was heavy and hard to move and I usually typed standing at a counter in the room where it was stored, white-out nearby for the errors I inevitably made. It was tedious.
One day, in a quiet area of the hospital, passing a room labeled “Computer Room”, I stopped and peered in. A woman was working at a desktop computer, her eyes on a screen, no white-out in sight. This was Pam, a kind and generous person I’ll never forget, who offered to help me learn something called word processing in a program called Word Perfect. I sat down in front of a computer near her desk and began to work.
I would type, get stuck, and then Pam would help me get unstuck. This was repeated over days, then weeks. I had limited time to get to the computer room, but Pam was there, ready to help, when I did. I eventually, and gloriously, used that computer for all of my typing needs.
After conquering word processing, something even bigger was around the corner and down the hall.
Our Surgical Services director asked me to contact our professional organization with a question about surgical protocol. My usual process was to make a phone call regarding my question and eventually get a response from the organization in the form of a journal article, on paper, by mail, a week or two later.
On that day (how I wish I could remember the date), I instead marched to the hospital library, to the only computer I knew of in the building that had something called internet access. With the librarian’s help, I logged on and found the organization’s primitive website. I searched, I printed.
An hour after her request, I handed the pertinent article to our director. She was startled, then horrified. She questioned me. This came from the internet? Yes. Can we trust this information? Yes, I assured her.
And that’s how life changes. In an hour or a moment. On an anonymous day. Via something called the internet. Or the information highway. Or the web. I didn’t understand it all, but I did understand that I really liked it, and that it would have a lot to do with me.