From Typewriter to iPad in Three Easy Decades

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

By Cam Mather

Firing up my 27-year-old Macintosh
computer when Steve Jobs died made me kind of reminiscent about the
“good” old days of computing. And “the time before.”

Michelle and I
love to regale our tech savvy daughters with stories of having to
“type” our essays during high school and university. Can you imagine?
And as someone who makes a mistake every 7 characters the concept seems
terrifying to me. I remember having to use a white tape that you placed
over your mistake, typed the “wrong” character again, which coloured the
wrong letter white, and then you retyped the correct letter. This was
before “White Out” was invented.

We had a very old “Underwood”
typewriter when I was a kid that I used to like to play around on. In
fact, our girls loved to play on it too. Even though they had computers
to use, they spent hours typing out stories and newsletters on that old
Underwood. They seemed to love the sound of the keys striking the paper.
It was very tactile. Very rewarding.

We also had an electric typewriter that they loved to use. There were endless notes banged out on it.

had been using and selling Apple II computers when the Macintosh was
first introduced, and luckily since Michelle was earning a good salary
teaching, we were able to buy one of the first Macs.

the last 27 years I’ve been in an endless loop of upgrading my
computers, usually about every 3 years. That original design of the
Macintosh got more powerful and you could add hard drives, but
eventually Apple went with a more traditional desktop look.

used our Macintosh Powerbook 7600 at the height of our electronic
publishing business. We had dozens of customers and produced hundreds of
electronic artwork files every year. We archived these on SyQuest
removable 80 MB drives, which was state of the art at the time. I
migrated many to be burned on CDs and DVDs eventually, but if someone
asked me for something stored on one of those old SyQuest or ZIP discs
today, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to retrieve it. I think the last
time I tried the SyQuest drive it was dead.

we were going full-bore with the electronic publishing business I had a
large high-resolution monitor. We moved it with us to this house off
the grid and it was a big mistake. It used way too much power, but since
I was already dealing with a hundred different issues while learning to
live off-grid, I wasn’t ready to upgrade my desktop computer at the
time. But pretty soon it became apparent that I had no choice but to get
rid of it and of course I couldn’t sell that old monitor because it was
3 years old, so I gave it to a friend on the grid.

So 13 years ago we started using laptops.

first Macintosh laptop was black. The apple logo on the outside of the
case looked fine if you were sitting in front of it with the laptop
closed. But as soon as you opened up your laptop, the apple appeared
upside down for anyone looking at the back of your computer. Apparently
people didn’t like this and so Apple changed the orientation of their
logo on subsequent laptops. Surprisingly this laptop still works and
Michelle has still been using it for accounting purposes.

After the black laptop we bought a MacBook G4.

next laptop was a MacBook Pro, which offered a fantastic 17″ display.
The larger display is helpful for our book layout work.

Our daughters have had their share of iBooks since they started university.

I’m struck by now is how cheaply made all electronic equipment is. It’s
like manufacturers feel their stuff will be out of date in a few years,
so they don’t bother to build them well. When the hard drive in
Michelle’s 5-year-old laptop died, our tech guy suggested that you’re
lucky if you get 5 or 6 years out of a hard drive today. Five years?
What? The one in our first laptop is still working 13 years later.

hate throwing stuff out, which is why I’ve been able to take the photos
for this blog because I still have these computers. I am not a hoarder
though! This is for reminiscing! The way electronic waste piles up for
most North Americans is terrifying. Power supplies go. Hard drives go.
Some integrated circuit goes. It’s cheaper to buy a new one than to
replace it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m sort
of looking forward to the day I that I can unplug from the matrix
permanently. No computer. No cell phone. No more blogs. No eBooks. No
upgrades. No new version 3.0 you have to move to for some function to

Growing food is technology free. There are no upgrades. No
hard drives to crash. No backing up. Innovations come along, but a lot
of them are fancy tools that city people seem to like. The shovel I’m
using today is pretty much the same design as the one I used 35 years
ago in my first garden. The 4-tined cultivator I like to use for weeding
is consistent from year to year. There is no must have “Cultivator 4.0”
that I need to invest in.

The garden calls to me, constantly. The
computer … not so much. I miss the garden when I’m kept out of it by
work or bad weather. I love weekends when I don’t turn my computer on
for two days. I never miss my computer.

guess I’m a technology turncoat. I’m officially off the “technology
keener” team. My daughters’ iPhones have way more computing power than
rooms full of NASA computers that put a person on the moon. Lights blink
and dance on my routers and Ethernet hubs and satellite internet modems
and hard drives and they’re making me dizzy. It makes we want to go
shovel some horse manure.

Photos by Cam Mather and Katie Mather. For more information about Cam or his books, please visit or