Close encounters with technology and freedom at a perilously young age

The Origin Story


This story is told from a passenger seat. The driver at the wheel has nothing to do with me anymore even though he used to be me or I used to be him. All those things in the story are true and this is how they exist in my memory today. It not that easy to recollect all those events but they are definitely worth the effort.

I grew up in a typical east block concrete ZTB housing projects, stretching from either side towards the horizon, where the sky met the western lands of Austria. Strong winds pushed the tears out of your eyes every time you walked through the vast urban voids. Humming landscape. Through the voids were scattered another objects, such as small supermarkets, patches of greenery and standardized MS-RP II school buildings. As kids we were able to realize the close proximity of completely different universe which was at the same time so distant and foreign to us. Cultural connections were possible though. Watching austrian TV was significant for kids growing up in that area during the 80-s. All we watched at the time was ORF Eins und Zwei. Contact with a new western TV culture, with its movies, news broadcasts and commercial ads promoting products which we had not seen in our stores, had an irreversible impact on our mindset. I remember watching Apocalypse Now late at night at the age of 10. A movie which is not an easy ride to go for even now with its complex layering and extreme length. Why did I watch it that time and did not fall asleep? I don’t know. All I remembered afterwards was a Doors song, napalm flames covering palm trees and the boat on a river.Around that time a new thing occurred in our neighborhood. A personal computer. PC. Almost every family had one. A new tool. A new toy. A new language. A new freedom? Perhaps. Competition had started from that moment. And it was not just among us, kids. Commodore versus Atari arguments were on a daily basis during the school hours. Our first computers in primary school were joke- PMD 86, a cheap commodore 64 copy, manufactured in Czechoslovakia. Couldn’t wait to get back home. We were the the Atari family. 800 XL. 8 Bits and 64 Kilobytes of memory. I remember my dad playing around with it, writing a few hundreds lines of code just to see some obscure graphic image on the TV screen in the end. We used to play games on it, plugged to the old TV set as a screen and uploading games from magnetic tapes using the Atari 1010 tape recorder connected to the computer. We played for hours. One of the early first-person 3d games I had seen was the Rescue on Fractalus, designed by LucasFilm, where the player had to land his spaceship on a deserted planet in order to tank the fuel and have some maintenance work done. Most of the time you got this but once in a while would let an alien on board, who would smash the windshield, kill your crew and terminate your mission. Game over.
The early computers brought an idea of personal freedom which tasted so foreign in the context of grey uniformity and anonymity of the our society. Not for too long. The reality of a free, non-totalitarian society followed right after. The new PC owners started to form the computer clubs, some sort of an underground spawn, attracting men and women of diverse professions willing to share newly gained knowledge. These gatherings took place in small cold rooms, lit with a fluorescent lights, filled up with cheap cigarette smoke. Usually unhealthy looking people seemed to be even paler under these lights, all dressed up in manchester jeans, hand-knitted sweaters and polish leather jackets. Most of them had grown beard, bald forehead with greasy hair in the back tied to a ponytail and yellow-brown teeth from heaving too much coffee and cigarettes. East-block nerds. Their hands frantically gesturing, holding a pack of 5.25” floppy discs, magnetic tapes or just a bunch of yellowing papers with xeroxed lines of home-typed BASIC codes. This is how I will remember them, the nerds of their generation. The generation of well educated, smart and hard working people, simply because there was not much to do except learning and working. No distractions of the western culture, just a cheap food and some PC work before the lights-out. And maybe a faint idea that this was going to change. Someday.












This entry was posted in Martin Lukac, Theory Seminar. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.