I'm convinced in each life there are a handful of milestones, junctures at which the decisions we make totally change the direction of our future. Some might be the choice of a trade or college major, the selection of a spouse (both first and subsequent in some cases), electing to have children or not and the adoption of a moral/religious philosophy or the failure to do so.
I would add to that list the decision to purchase a home computer. Maybe it doesn't change everyone's life but it certainly did mine.
I came to computing relatively late in life. I suspect I was one of the last students at the University of Alabama to complete a master's thesis without using a computer to tabulate the data.
I didn't really see a reason to buy a home computer until my daughter, Molly, started school in 1990. She was using computers in her classroom and I thought it might be nice for her to have one at home, too.
I purchased a Macintosh LCII with a 40 megabyte hard drive. That wouldn't be enough to run a modest word processor program now but back in those pioneering days it was a screaming machine. I spent hours playing solitaire so I could master the use of the mouse.
Then one day I loaded America Online, version 1.0. The service was in its infancy. There were a few chat rooms and I soon discovered my favorite. It was called Author's Café. It's hard to imagine today but back then literary luminaries like Amy Tan and Tom Clancy would log on to chat with neophyte writers and share valuable suggestions and insights.
It was in this chat room that I started talking with Arthur486. He was a writer living on Florida's Gulf Coast and writing for Sarasota Magazine and the St. Petersburg Times. He had just purchased his first computer and I was charmed by the way he expressed both his amazement and frustration with the new machine.
I wasn't looking for a boyfriend and certainly not a husband. I had my hands full aplenty with being a single mother, a small business owner and a fledgling computer geek. I had no intention of meeting this person, no matter how charming or erudite, face to face. As I told him at the time, "That's how people end up dead in dumpsters."
We all know the outcome of that resolution. We met in July, and by January 1994, I was Mrs. Arthur Glazer. Before the end of the year, baby Rachel had been added to the family.
Years later, my crafty husband created a shadowbox featuring both of our original modems. He said whenever anyone asked where we met, he'd just point to the shadowbox.
Since those early days, I've been through any number of computers. For six years, I used that workhorse of all laptops, the Dell Inspiron. It held every digital picture I'd taken since Molly's high school years. There was file after file of virtual scribbles, started but never finished columns, ideas for ad campaigns for the shop.
A day never went by that I didn't use that computer multiple times. Then one morning it just died.
There were no sparks or bangs. There was no dramatic death scene. It just stopped cold.
Not even Arthur, who has gone on to make computers his life's work, could resuscitate it. I'd neglected to back up any of the data and for a while it looked as though memories of Molly's proms and graduation (both from high school and college), Rachel's Bat Mitzvah and every award and honor each child had ever received would no longer have a visual representation.
Then a grouchy Arthur disappeared into his lab mumbling about people who just won't listen when they're told over and over and over to back up their systems. Hours later he emerged with the majority of the data retrieved. My hero.
So what if I hadn't purchased that first computer? There'd be no Arthur or Rachel. There'd be no Google to immediately answer any mused question, no Wikipedia to take the place of the set of World Book Encyclopedias in the bookcase.
I can't remember the last time I played solitaire with a real deck of cards. I usually find recipes online rather than in cookbooks. I shop and I sell online. Every aspect of my life is enhanced and complemented by this technology.
Not buy a computer? That's my road not taken and I'm oh, so grateful, that I didn't choose it.
(Originally published in the Gainesville Times, September 5, 2008)