Dan Conradt: Welcome to Computers for Beginners

January 21, 2019

A radio was playing somewhere off in the distance, just loud enough for me to recognize Bananarama’s “Venus.”

Otherwise, it was quiet. The college was probably always quiet on Tuesday nights.

I stopped where the hallways formed a “T.” A plastic marker on the wall pointed the way to the computer lab.

Computers, computers, computers! Everybody was talking about computers!

I was there more out of curiosity than necessity, but the way everyone was raving about computers it was probably just a matter of time before we got one at work.

I was 15 minutes early, but didn’t want to be late for my first class. I’d left home with an apple for the teacher but ate it in the car. Hope it doesn’t affect my grade.

The instructor greeted me at the door.

“Welcome!” he said, waving a clipboard. “You are …?

“I’m Dan.”

“Here you are!” he said, putting a red check mark next to my name on the class roster.

“We’ve got you at the end of the first row,” he said.

The room was filled with five rows of long tables parked end-to-end. In each row there were half a dozen computers … a screen the size of the television mom had on her kitchen counter, sitting on top of a cream-colored box.

My first impression was that computers were smaller than I expected.

I walked past a guy who already had his computer turned on; I stopped and watched as a red seven floated across the screen and came to rest on top of a black eight.

“Why is this guy in the class,” I wondered. “He already knows all about computers …”

Still, it WAS pretty cool.

I watched over his shoulder for a few minutes. He cleared his throat a lot; must be getting over a cold.

“All right, class,” the instructor said. “If everyone will take their seats we’ll get started.”

Chair legs scraped, then the room got quiet.

The instructor flipped a switch on a projector, and a screen at the front of the room flared to life.

“Welcome to Computers for Beginners,” he said, tapping his keyboard. “I’m Mr. …,” and as he said his name it appeared on the screen, under the title of the course.

Not as cool as a red seven floating onto a black eight, but still pretty neat.

“Before we get started, just a brief overview of the course,” and he went on to explain what we’d be doing for the next eight Tuesday nights … a couple of weeks on word processing, a couple of weeks on spreadsheets and … “If we’re lucky,” he said … a week to just play games.

“Did everyone remember to bring a disk? If anyone forgot, I do have a couple of extras.”

I had no idea what a 5-1/4 inch floppy disk was. Fortunately, the guy at Radio Shack did.

“OK, class,” the instructor began, scanning the room to make sure everyone had a disk. “Let’s begin. First, start your computer, then use the mouse to click on the ‘Word’ icon.” As he spoke a little arrow moved across the projector screen and came to rest on top of a blue ‘W’. “And if you have questions at any time, just raise your hand.”

I raised my hand.

“Yes … “ the instructor said, consulting his seating chart. “Dan?”

“How do you turn it on?”

Someone snickered, probably someone younger than 30. But I also saw several heads nodding, and I knew I was speaking on behalf of everyone who grew up with black-and-white television.

The instructor back-tracked and showed us the “on” button, and the screen on my computer sprang to life.

“Now,” he said. “Insert your disk and left-click …”

I raised my hand, and he didn’t even have to consult his seating chart: “Yes, Dan?”

By the end of the night I was able to type my name and the lyrics to The Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” save it on my floppy disk and turn off the computer, all without raising my hand.

Pretty good progress in four hours.

After eight weeks I’d become a much better Solitaire player.

And I ended up getting a pretty good grade in the class.

It was interesting and kind of fun, but I don’t know how valuable it really was. I mean … these computers? Let’s face it — six months from now we will have forgotten all about them …

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