“We are all connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.” – Stephen Hawking
I love technology; as someone who struggles with the effects of cerebral palsy on a daily basis, I depend on it. Like most of my peers who were born in the latter half of the 20th Century, my way of life has been shaped by the evolution of technology. In my journey through life, I’ve witnessed tremendous changes in culture and interpersonal relations that were caused by such inventions as computers, smartphones and the Internet.
Since I was born in 1963, I grew up at a time when consumers already owned gadgets like televisions, telephones, radios, tape recorders and record players. My generation was the first to play or work with video game consoles such as the Atari 2600 and compact disc players.
Affordable video cassette recorders for home use, and personal computers such as the Apple IIe, Macintosh, or IBM PC were gaining popularity. Consequently, I’ve always been an early adopter of most newfangled consumer electronics.
Making the Transition from Typewriters to Computers
Even before IBM, Commodore, and Apple introduced personal computers to the masses in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, I already had a symbiotic relationship with technology. When I was in Mrs. Chambers’ third and fourth grade classes at Tropical Elementary School, I typed more than two-thirds of my written classwork on Royal electric typewriters because I had – and still have – a tough time writing things in longhand.
Like many people with cerebral palsy, I find that writing with pen and paper is difficult, if not impossible. I can jot down short notes and telephone numbers, but after a while my hand gets tired and my fingers start to ache. So for me, typewriters were a godsend.
Now, I wasn’t the world’s best typist, but I could write longer and better essays and short stories using those big, heavy, and noisy Royals than I could with a pen and a sheet of paper. This proved to be a double-edged sword, though. When I was mainstreamed in fifth grade, I didn’t have access to an electric typewriter; my teacher, Mrs. Brown, thought the clacking noise of my typing and the distinctive hum of the Royal’s motor would be a distraction. As a result, my in-class writing efforts were somewhat lackluster.
I also had issues with take-home writing assignments during fifth and part of sixth grade. Part of cerebral palsy, at least for me, is the tendency for my hands to get tired and tremble when writing with pen and paper. This made for messy writing assignments.
Electric typewriters were not exorbitantly expensive, but my mom wasn’t consistently employed back then, so she couldn’t afford to get one for me. It wasn’t until my neighbor Sheila Blanchard and her college sorority friends presented me with an IBM Selectric in early 1977 that I’d own my first one. By then, my stint in Mrs. Vaughan’s sixth grade class was in its halfway point, but at least I could do most of my homework and turn it in on time.
I never became a world-class typist. In fact, I still use the two-finger hunt-and-peck method I picked up in elementary school. It was not the speediest or the tidiest way to type, so most of my typewritten work was full of typos and strikeouts. Because my typing was so messy, my essays and term papers often required the profligate use of Liquid Paper until I was introduced to computers in the early 1980s.
Although IBM, Apple, and other manufacturers had introduced personal computers in the late 1970s, I didn’t use one on a regular basis until the fall term of the 1985-86 academic year. I was a freshman at Miami-Dade Community College, where I majored in journalism and mass communications.
In fact, the first computer I used wasn’t even a PC; it was an Editwriter typesetting computer in the student newspaper’s production room. As the newly-appointed copy editor of the Catalyst, I was one the few students with access to the bulky early 1980s machine.
At first, I only used it to make corrections on articles and columns that were already in the system. Later, as I worked my way up the ladder of the editorial staff, I wrote my assignments on the Editwriter. I stopped writing first drafts the old school way, with the IBM Selectrics used in the paper’s main office.
That same year, I started using Apple IIes at the College’s Apple Lab in the South Campus’ Building Six. I spent countless hours there between classes and worked on a plethora of essays, group projects, and term papers. I relied on the Apple Lab for all my computing needs until my Uncle Sixto, my dad’s brother, gave me my own Apple II in the spring of 1987.
Brave New Worlds
“All happiness depends on courage and work.” – Honoré de Balzac
For a few years, my personal computing needs were modest, so I was content with my Apple IIe. While I was still at Miami-Dade, I used it mainly to write rough drafts of articles for the student newspaper and other college-related projects. I also wrote a few short stories, many letters, and even a couple of articles for the one-and-only issue of Decca Magazine, a publication created and edited by an acquaintance from college.
Of course, I also spent countless hours playing computer games, including Destroyer, Street Soccer, Summer Games, Silent Service, Crusade in Europe, NATO Commander, Gulf Strike, and F-15 Strike Eagle. The graphics and sound effects were primitive by today’s standards, but the games were challenging, entertaining, and even educational.
I liked my Apple IIe a great deal, but even though it had cost my uncle $2300 back in ’87, it was extremely limited in comparison with IBM-made PCs or compatible MS-DOS computers. Back in the day, we called those generic computers “IBM clones” or “clones.” Today, any desktop or laptop that runs on the Microsoft Windows operating system is called a PC, not a “clone.”
While I was in college, this didn’t matter much. But after I dropped out of school, (I was frustrated with my inability to fulfill the state-mandated math requirement for promotion to the four-year university level) I needed to use MS-DOS-based computers in order to earn a living as a communications consultant.
Luckily, one of my friends from college, Raci De Armas, knew a great deal about PCs and all kinds of IT-related stuff, so he taught me how to use MS-DOS and, later, Windows 3.1. At first, it was only to play MS-DOS-based games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, Red Storm Rising, M-1 Tank Platoon, and Silent Service II. I also must admit that there were games I avoided because my CP made it hard for me to play them, including Tetris, Apollo Moon Lander, or anything that involved drawing.
Technology Opens a New Way to Make a Living
Later, though, Raci thought I should use my skills as a writer and editor in order to earn money. He taught me how to use Word Perfect and Microsoft Word. He also recommended me for several gigs, including a stint as an editor for a struggling writer of children’s books and a consultant for a quality assurance consulting company, Advent Group, Inc. And for the next few years, that’s how I earned a modest living.
Though I didn’t make enough money on a regular basis to move out of my mother’s house – something that she never really encouraged me to do in any case – I was able to help pay some of the bills and still have a little spending money to go out with friends or buy an occasional book, music album, PC game, or even a movie on home media.
Unfortunately, this was at a time when the Internet was not yet in wide use, so I could only work at places close to Metrobus stops or if the clients picked me and dropped me back home at the end of the workday.
In theory, I could have signed up with the county’s Special Transportation Service (STS), which provides rides for qualified disabled individuals who need to get to a doctor’s appointment, a shopping trip to a mall, or even an office job. Users pay a fee for each ride ($2 or $3 each way), but they must make reservations in advance.
I qualified because I get Supplemental Security Income from the federal government (because of my cerebral palsy), but I still didn’t use STS. Some of my friends who used the service complained that drivers were often late and unreliable.
Sometimes, dispatchers would forget to advise drivers that they had a client to pick up and leave someone stranded at a mall, on a college campus, or at a private residence. I didn’t want to have to deal with that kind of hassle, so I refused to sign up with STS, even though it might have given me more independence and wider choice of work gigs.
Still, in spite of my cerebral palsy, I managed to work steadily with a handful of clients at least until 2003 – the year when I began my career as an online writer and widened my horizons.
To Be Continued….