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Computer Life...By David Simons

When my son was a youngster I encountered our 1st home computer. I remember this couple of large boxes arriving and there being a huge monitor (as they were back then) and a box as I called it and still do at times!

I set to unpacking it scratching my head at all the wires and pieces I kept coming across thinking what the …… You know what I mean!!

Anyway, after a couple of hours and sitting under the desk I managed to get this magical box to come alive. It had software installed like Office, some other discs - games of some sort, I had the internet connected - yeah, I’m all set!

I sat there looking at this pretty picture thinking so what do I do now?

We had no Broadband and were all dial up. The funny sounds coming from this modem were enlightening if not odd! I was on this “Homepage for Microsoft” and thought I am on!!

A click, and there I was watching info on flights coming in and going from Heathrow which amused me for a good half hour!!

I took the view I would press, click or whatever took my fancy and well if I did something the magical box didn’t like I am sure it will tell me! I thought if all else fails I am in charge, I can pull the plug out the wall!

I decided to join “AOL” as it was back then, it seemed to be the one to go for.

As I was “surfing” I was learning with each click and step. I was finding so much info and things to do and read, often a quick visit online ended up being an hour plus - a click led to something else of interest and another click followed and so on. You get the idea!

I ventured into chat rooms, scrolled down the list and found something of interest as was so many from gardening to cooking to pets.

Feeling confident as the days went on I ventured into US chat zones. I was brave and thought let’s see what they have!

For me it was one of the best things I ever did. As you may have worked out, I own a couple or 3 parrots and pets were a huge interest of mine. I come across this Bird Chat room (actual birds OK!). I remember it to this day - My typing skills were not great back then, but I was chatting to Americans!

We all shared this mutual love of parrots and I was in my element. That box of magical wires connected me with the outside world who shared a same interest.

I made some good friends, many of which to this day 20+ years later are still great friends. We are like a little family. We shared the highs and lows of our kids, school and our lives via this bundle of wires.

I was careful not to give away anything of personal information as there were people who would send you things to try and get bank details or access to accounts.

I learnt so much from these friends on the ways of the internet, the protocols and what was considered “shouting” like capital letters use all the time and 1 lady who become like a sister to me really taught me the ways of AOL, the internet and my computer and what it could do.

I had so much fun. People would come in for advice about their bird and if we could help we would. Someone had a Birthday we celebrated; someone’s child achieved something we celebrated. Likewise the sad times we were there for each other.

I learnt AOL had a Host and Guide scheme of Moderators - if an idiot appeared to cause havoc, then mods would deal with the person as needs be.

I got to know an American Host who was a bird owner. She said I should consider applying for a position on this side of the water. I looked into it, read and gave it some thought so did apply.

The weeks rolled by and heard nothing - eventually an email arrived – “UK Guide Programme”.

They were offered me an online interview to see if I was any good. The position was voluntary, the one thing you got was free AOL and your internet paid for you along with twice a year a mass meeting in a venue all paid for by them where you were fed and watered and accommodation overnight in a decent hotel. I had learned so much I wanted to give something back.

I started a 6-8 week training course - online 3 times a week plus homework. It was hard work, a lot to learn as had to know the rules so could act on them if needed in a chat room or a message board. I passed through training and final exams and become a Guide for AOL UK – fantastic!

I had a mentor as well as the support of an existing guide family. We remain a family online as to this day. I still keep in touch with many of them, some have now moved to places like Australia or sadly some have died.

I also become a Host, specialising in the Pets area managing message boards and the pet chat having topic related chats certain times of the week.

I was involved in helping to keep things nice both on message boards as well as chat rooms as sadly such occasions could bring out the worst of people too.

I ventured into Pal Talk - an early form of Jitsi - it was chat with no video option. My American pals loved my accent of course and like some of them had such strong southern drawl I had a job understanding some of them, but we had great times laughing at my lack of understanding or for some of them not understanding me as well as the lingo being different between us and them.

Jitsi is new and different and modern and even for someone like me who learnt stuff over the years it is all a new venture and something I am looking forward to with the usual mix of excitement and reservation. For many of us we all heading into this on the same level and going to be asking things, clicking things and no doubt doing odd things before mastering the basics of it.

Being video too I have to make sure I have no canteen medals on my shirt now or that I combed that remaining hair I have left so not look like I just fallen out of bed or something! So as I have heard it said we all in this together and we all the same when it comes to the new changes and how we can meet and chat and discuss things with people like Wendy, Simon, etc

We can all learn together the wonders of Jitsi and clicking on things and seeing what happens. As I was told many years ago the only daft question is the one we don’t ask.

We are all on a level par with each other, learning this new world of chatting and doing things.

This box of wires and chips is pretty useless. It is us the operator that make it smart by what we slowly learn on how to use it and getting us to do what we want.

Today’s operating system will thankfully check do we really want to delete this or something before letting us do it, is only doing that to make the whole bundle of wires work for us.

So we're all in this together, wire chips and all!

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