It was 1982. I was working in an office for the first time since university summers when I hand coded all those insurance cards that went into the primitive main- frames or searched for lost policies in filing cabinets. I was now the executive administrator of a service organization for the province’s choirs. I was getting helpful hints every time there was a new phone call from my administrative assistant, who always told me who the person on the phone really was. Three weeks in she had a fall and was hospitalized. I remember sitting on the floor surrounded by manuals and trying to cope with the photocopier and postage machine. I hardly knew how to turn on an electric typewriter let along type with it.
We were a staff of three on her return. The other two were in their 70s and 20s and I was smack in the middle. The older woman was a godsend who patiently taught me administration and the younger one was full of innovative energy. I met with provincial representatives who funded our overhead and with our sister organizations who provided services to orchestral music, drama and the visual arts. What we started hearing about was something called a personal computer.
Our organization had no money for research or feasibility studies, but the orchestra organization had just spent $5,000 on a feasibility study – so I asked to borrow it. The recommendations included the purchase of an Altos computer and customized software. While I have made lots of bad decisions before and since, I did make one good one after concluding that we were in no way unique and should go for a basic machine and proprietary software. So in the spring of 1983 we became the proud owners of one PC with an amazing 10 megabytes of memory, and versions of Wordstar, DBase Three and Lotus123. Their Altos never arrived and the programming consultant disappeared.
We didn’t have proper manuals because the software came pre-installed. I spent a good deal of my own money buying heavy paperbacks produced by Sybase and other publishers. I always looked for ones whose authors were out-of-work English teachers like me. We had to learn a number of keyboard combinations to perform simple tasks. The only one that I have properly retained to this day is Ctrl-Alt-Delete. That summer I took a three week holiday and forgot everything that I had learned. Two of us mastered Wordstar slowly while third could always beat us on the IBM Selectric with her excellent knowledge of both touch-typing and shorthand. I was so taken with the new machine, that I bought a similar desktop for $2500 of my personal hard earned dollars and took it home. We stared at the black screen with its orange letters until our eyes ached. But we were on our way.