The computer room

The computer room

The Living Room is the main showcase piece of any house. Your best chairs, best couch. Living rooms give off the impression that your family comes home, turns on Mozart, and reads from the great Russian novels. No spills, no swears, not even a bad thought has ever taken place in the Living Room.

And so when a Living Room couch is past it's prime, it gets sent down to the basement. At first, the couch is ashamed. So you give it a little encouragement. Hey, you'll love it down there. They spill things and it's no big deal. You really become more like a giant napkin. 

The TV is the next thing to be demoted. The Living Room TV feels as much pressure to be ultra-thin as supermodels do in the world of high-end fashion. And before there were flat-screen TVs, there were entire pieces of furniture designed to cover up the bulky TVs of the 90s and early 2000s. Our TV cabinet hid the TV, the 5-disk DVD player, and the row of DVDs/VHS tapes. The closed TV cabinet gave the impression that this might secretly be a wine cellar; something more fit for a luxurious Living Room.

The Computer Room, on the other hand, was only one step up from the basement. Ours had a reject TV, a retired Living Room chair, and a bean bag chair painted like a basketball. There was also a plastic M&M basketball player on top of the TV. Pull the shooting arm, M&Ms dispensed. It was one of those great 90's purchases like the singing Big Mouth Billy Bass. These things had a solid nine-year career going from the computer room, to the basement, to 85 cents a garage sale.

But it didn't matter what else was in the room because the desktop computer would always be the main attraction.

It's gotta be hard for anyone born after the year 2000 to imagine the concept of a computer room. This wasn't a laptop that you could move around the house. No, this thing was plugged into the wall. Not going anywhere. And there was no wifi all around the house. The only way to be on the internet was in that room. Connected via ethernet cable. The rest of the house was literally unplugged.

And before the iMac, we had a Gateway computer. That was a whole different experience. You'd walk in with a paper to write and have zero confidence the computer would still be working by the end. It felt like walking a tight rope over Chicago. Every few minutes: Alright, save it. Whew. Write another paragraph. Save it. Ok, couple more steps. Easy. Easy does it. Wait. No. No! (desperatley hitting the mouse). Control-alt-delete! Control-alt-delete!

"Did you save it?" your mom, your dad, your brother would call out from the hallway. "It's gone," you'd repeat a few times slowly, staring at the frozen screen. "Everything. Gone." And you'd go through the seven stages of grief before shutting the computer down, starting over.

If you were lucky enough to make it through the journey of writing the paper, oh, that was just the beginning. Printing was even harder. The computer and the printer were natural enemies. Never wanted to work together. And the home printer was never prepared either.

Hey printer, did you bring the paper?

Nope.

Alright. Any ink?

Nope. Out of that too.

Are you even plugged in?

So you went to Staples. Black ink was $8,000, color came in at $25,000. Your Dad traded the Honda Accord for a cartridge and you walked home.

And heaven forbid you needed to print more than two pages! That completely overwhelmed the home printer. "Slow down! Slow down!" the printer yelled and then tripped all over itself. Smoke started coming out.

Now it's time for the dreaded paper jam. The instructions for fixing a paper jam were always this weird mix of steps.

Step 1: Open this flap

Ok. That makes sense. Alright, what's next?

Step 2: Turn on the garden hose outside

Alright, not sure how that fits in but ok.

Step 3: Press and hold this button for 17 seconds

Ok. Strangely specific. But looks like something's happening...

Step 4: Spray the printer with the hose

But you had to print the paper out. There was no other way to prove to the teacher that you did it. I guess you could take a photo of the screen with a disposable camera, but that's gonna take at least 24-hours to develop.

There was always one high-tech kid in the class who would make a suggestion like, "You know, you could use a USB stick and doopy doo and then bring that in to the computer lab," but when you have a Gateway computer at home you're like, "Dude, I'm sure you could do that. But I have no chance with a USB anything. I'm just happy when Caps Lock works."

Side note - You ever wonder why the Caps Lock key isn't written in all caps?

The computer room was where you chatted with friends on AOL. Where you played games. Where you went through this high stakes game of writing a paper. But when you left, you were offline. Unplugged. The internet was just a place, a room where you could escape to and from. And get a handful of M&Ms on your way out.

For as much as I don't miss those battles with the printer or the days when there was no magical cloud, no blog sites, a paper could just disappear, I do miss the boundaries of the computer room. The on/off switch. Now we can bring the computer with us anywhere, in our pocket, wherever we go. Which is great, but sometimes I think, "Man, I kind of miss being unplugged."

Thank you for reading today's blog!

Quick plug - My new book "Here or There" is now available. The fastest way to order is through Amazon, but you can also order a signed copy through Long Overdue Books (just email library@longoverduestories.com) 

To subscribe to Medium Rare via email, just enter your email address in the box below. See you next week for a post about trying a restaurant without checking Yelp first. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Leave a comment