I have been around personal computers since the mid 1980’s and they have come a long way from their humble 8-bit beginnings. The home computer and other circuitry accessories it has spawned have now become part of our everyday lives. Just like automobiles, computers are almost a necessity. There used to be a running joke about what a presidential candidate’s slogan usually was, “Two cars in every garage.” These days it could be changed to, “Two computers in every house.” Before my involvement with computers, I was a mechanic/machinist for about ten years. The funny thing is how similar the mind-set is, usually with men, when it comes to cars and computers.
Now, most people worry more about software than they do about the hardware inside their computers. Point and click, and if it doesn’t work, take it to a shop or buy a newer computer. Starting to sound like a car yet? Well some people, usually men, like to tinker with their computers. Quite a few, also usually men like myself, upgrade or even build our own computers. The HP and Dell throwaways will not do for us. And if you listen in to a conversation of computer ‘geeks’, it might even take you back to fond memories of tricked-out engines and hot rods. Let me explain.
In the early days of home computing, you had to know a little about what was inside. A lot of times you had to tinker with the darn thing to make it work. This usually called on the owner’s skills to do repair jobs with simple tools. As more of us began to buy computers some of us traded one ritual of manhood for another, to become loving caretakers of our often-temperamental computers. While this transition occurred, the terminology differed somewhat, but conversations had a familiar ring to them.
I was never a hot rod enthusiast, but being a mechanic, knew people who were. The conversations would usually go something like this. “Yeah, I just bought me a four barrel Holly (carburetor) for my 327 (engine). With the new heads and camshaft (engine parts), it should give me the power I’m looking for. I can’t wait to put it in, but I’m still waiting on my intake (manifold, another engine part).” His friend might respond like this. “Cool, I know what you mean, man. Hey, you still coming over Saturday to help me with my headers (exhaust pipes)? They’re gonna give me a whole lot better performance.” Sometimes it even got downright scientific, with ratios and diameters.
Now compare that with a conversation you might hear between two computer enthusiasts. “Hey, my new RAM chips (processing memory) just came in for my motherboard (main computer)! It should give me the power I’m looking for, along with my new processor. But I’m still waiting on my video card. When it finally gets here I’ll put everything in together.” His friend might answer back by saying, “You haven’t got that video card yet? Well since you have the time, you want to come over and help me find the hidden program running on my computer? It isn’t a virus, but if I can stop it from running I’ll get a whole lot better performance out of my computer.”
Instead of turbo boosts, rack and pinion steering, these days it is processors and hardware configuration. In the early days, some computer upgrades were even called turbo boosts or other hot rod words. Compatibility and speed are other similarities both worlds have. Just like you cannot use a Ford part on a Chevy engine, you cannot use some hardware or software with certain computers. The need for speed is a no-brainer. If your computer is not fast enough, you cannot run all the neat video games or connect to the latest electronic gadgets.
Take a look underneath the hood of a car, and the cover of a computer sometime. A car starts with a basic engine block, and a computer begins with a motherboard. Everything else connects to these fundamental necessities to affect how each performs. With engines there are cylinder heads, manifolds, camshafts and a fuel intake system. With computers it is processors, memory, media and hard drives. How fast is your car? How fast is your computer? Whose can perform the best? Let’s race! That’s the next step with computers, and it is already here. Imagine playing a fast paced live online game with someone in Australia. Besides skill, the opponent with the fastest computer and connection will definitely have some advantage. How about the last minute of an online auction? If your computer takes longer to process data, or you have a slower connection than the other bidder, there is a possibility you may lose the auction.
“Yeah buddy I tell you what. I got the latest and fastest computer in the store! They had to special order some of the parts, man! Check this out. I got me over thirty gigs of high density buffered RAM, with an Amdram 5600 hyper thread power processor. This thing is loaded, with every connection and hook up you can think of. I have two 39 gig ultra fast hard drives, and two DVD 56 RPM burners. Not to mention my one GIG dual drive video and audio card, with turbo capture capabilities and multi-monitor video. Oh man, it’s the fastest thing around. What? Get out of here. No way man, yours don’t even come close. Let’s go over to your place and see. Maybe we’ll put them up side-by-side and compare, big mouth. Then we’ll see who has the fastest.”
Oh yeah, sounds like the good old days. Many younger people I meet try to convince me that the times have changed. Things are quicker, faster. Communication and information is available in an instant these days. We can connect with the entire world with the click of a button. Well maybe technology and the new toys it brings for us to play with have changed, but humans have not changed a bit. We do what we do best, we adapt. And along with adaptation, we carry with us what has come before. Sometimes the past even overlaps into our language. How many times do you hear a recording artist announce the release of their latest ‘record’ (CD)?
I suppose when automobiles first came out, the horse carriage enthusiasts adapted their skills and terminology for the new technology too. It probably goes the same for communication or weapon enthusiasts. Comparing computer and car enthusiasts may not reveal any earth shattering revelation, but it is interesting to see the evolution and transition from one hobby to another. Times may change, but some things never do.