Pioneers, Adopers and Natives

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A very big thanks to Peter, a valued museum volunteer, who has been writing our blog for the museum’s website. Brian and Chris, two more volunteers, are going to pick up where Peter left off and bring you more from the day to day workings of our museum. So for my (Chris) first contribution, I wanted to share some thoughts about our all-important visitors.

The real challenge for those of us that volunteer to show people around The National Museum of Computing, is the challenge of trying to ‘see’ the exhibits through our visitor’s eyes. A few of our elderly guests have seen most of the development of computing from the very start. Can you imagine that? A world without computers and then they emerge, giant machines cutting into a new science. It must have been amazing as a pioneer to witness the birth of a technology, the challenges, the mistakes, the breakthroughs and the relentless drive to faster, more powerful, smaller computers.

We have our share of giant computers at TNMOC, Colossus of course, but also the WITCH and later the ICL 2966. Huge machines tackling complex calculations and tasks. I often wonder if those who developed and worked with these icons of technology ever imagined what they might become in such a short time; small, powerful and so amazingly ‘personal’.

For the middle aged visitor there is a different feeling, a different response. They are the generation that saw the birth of the microcomputer, in schools, homes and the workplace. Many reminisce with us about their ‘first’ computer. Hours spent copying BASIC programs from magazines, playing simple games and comparing notes at school about the latest add-on for your brand of micro. The microcomputer wave hit most people, especially the young as the ‘adopters’ of this new exciting technology for work and play.

But now we have visitors who are digital natives, born into a world where computers are everywhere and no longer a new technology. How do they see computing history and where it all might develop in the next 60 years?

As an ‘adopter’I wonder if I would like to have been a pioneer, back at the very start seeing the first computers come to life, huge, hot and so limited by today’s standards and yet breaking new ground, running the very first programs. Waiting to see the first outputs to paper tape, the expectation and thrill of being there, being first.

But then I look in envy at our young visitors, with so much computing power at their fingertips. What will they experience as computers evolve to be unrecognisable to us of a past generation? How close will we get to the thinking machine? When will these tiny devices become so small they will be found inside us, helping our bodies function. How personal will they ultimately become?

The history of computing is very personal. Each machine we exhibit has so many people and stories behind it and for our visitors evoke very different emotions. When you visit TNMOC next, whether you are pioneer, adopter or digital native do please share your thoughts with our volunteers. Don’t worry about getting excited by a grey box, we often do!. We appreciate your thoughts, memories and comments, technical and otherwise; so come see us and share. Alternatively talk to us through our Facebook page here.

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