Apparently Atari and I have something in common that I never knew – we’re the same age. Atari turns 40 this year, and so will I. When I think Atari, I flash back to Pong. That amazing Pong. Then, of course, my first 2600 game console.
The Land Before Pong
See. Before there was Pong, there was nothing. No video games, just Wiffle® ball, and two-hand touch football in the streets. Maybe “Mother, May I?” or “Red Light, Green Light” – actually, we had countless ways to kill our time. Then our generation was blessed with the simple brilliance of Pong. Soon enough we had chunky graphics with bleeping sound effects on our bloated television sets. Often in color; sometimes, black and white. We destroyed boulders and aliens, explored ancient ruins, caught exploding bombs, munched mazes of pellets and even hunted and killed each other.
This was around the same time when our parents still dragged us to the bank to get cash. No convenience of ATMS nor their debit card ilk. Good luck if you ran out of money on a Saturday night. TV’s dished out about 13 channels if you had a good set of rabbit ears. (Sorry if you don’t know what “rabbit ears” are. Ask your parents if you don’t.)
I remember being about 10 when a spontaneously-affluent neighbor showed up with his Timex Sinclair mini personal computer. He was shamelessly boasting about some new cool thing it had. It was called electronic mail, or e-mail. “What’s e-mail?” I snottily and dismissively asked. “It’s an electronic version of mail.” I said, “Well, that’s stupid. Nobody’s gonna use it…”
Soon afterward, Commodore hit the market with their PETs and Vic 20’s – being smart enough to give us control with a keyboard and “memory”. Even though the memory was a cassette (again, ask your parents if you don’t know what this is). One of the drawbacks of being an early adopter in this technology: hardly anyone was using it, or even knew what it was. Nobody to send e-mails to, nor receive them from. I was right, but not for long. Eventually, society would catch up and we all know how that story ends.
Game systems, home computers and graphics evolved incredibly since the simplicity of Pong. In fact, today I am often fooled by my son’s video games – convinced I am watching TV. He plays with his school friends whether they are in the room, or across town. Sometimes he “verses” in real time, in living color, the youth of Argentina or the Ukraine.
We are Finally Living in the Jetson’s Era
Today, we have pocket computers (some still call them cell phones), that allow us to watch TV, take pictures, organize our lives, and, yes, occasionally make phone calls. We are finally living in the Jetson’s era. (Well, mostly, I’m still waiting for my flying car.) Not only has the digital era made everyday things more portable, cooler and convenient – it’s changed the way we communicate. Way beyond email now, we have social media, instant messages and video chat. We are snapping pictures, editing them, and sharing them worldwide with strangers in seconds. We are paying our bills without picking up pens. The revolution is killing newspapers, TV, traditional telephones, orchestras, downtowns and even the simple ability to socialize. Yard sales are vanishing.
My nieces and their associates don’t talk when sharing a couch. They text. We’re losing the ability to verbally communicate while within arm’s reach. This generation doesn’t even bother with email. OMG. That’s sooooo last century. Instead, they, like, barrage each other with IM’s, pics and vids – in a language all their own.
Well, Atari. It’s been an amazing ride. We’ve witnessed the world morph – from humans to machines, paper to pixels, analog to digital. Banktellers and TV announcers still have jobs, trees are still falling for paper, so we’re not fully there yet. We’re still amidst this evolution, left only to imagine what will happen over the next 40 years. We’ll wait and see.
In the meantime, it might be a good day to dig through the shed, dust off that 2600 and blast some aliens.