I just had a nice conversation with my young housemates (they are 20 something and 30 something) and one of them asked me about how it felt to have been their age at a time when there was no social media (or something like that).
Well, obviously there will have to be an entire story there, and that will be coming (now sooner than otherwise planned) but the question also feeds into what I was going to write about anyway in today’s Daily Brian.
More specifically, the tools that artists use, and even more specifically, the computer in the hands of artists.
As everyone should know, the film industry can create pretty much any image they need. Thus, they no longer can impress us with cool special effects and now need to actually employ good writing and directing to get us discerning movie-goers to actually… go. And of course we artists (starving and/or otherwise) now have the tools to do amazing things with images (and media in general) with our phones and home computers that just a few years ago could only be done by people with professional tools.
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s I had very little in the way of computer equipment but I still had one. I first had a Mac similar to the one in the background of this photo of my friend Charlie Keenan in his studio.
Charlie was a working professional commercial artist and as you can see, he used mostly old drawing table techniques to do his work and the computer was mostly for office stuff. He did eventually (and by necessity) invest in a few top of the line graphics computers but grudgingly so. I will write more about Charlie in a longer story at another time but I mention him here because I was using my Mac (and later an Amiga) to try and do art.
It was crude and clumsy but I had fun. I even made some attempts at incorporating digitized (not everything was automatically digital back then) images of my friends into my work. Here you see my best friend John about to crush our home town of Rochester, Minnesota. I didn’t get very far with that project idea, but sure had fun working on it.
I also actually made a little money with my Amiga. Charlie got me a gig making an image he needed for a presentation with his major client (3M) animating sink rates of different fly fishing lines, but unfortunately I don’t have it now (or still have yet to find it). And I got a job on my own making (really basic) cgi animations for a training video a chemical lab needed to show potential fire hazards.
These things took a lot of time and patience and dedication and as a young artist without much direction and a fascination for the very physical medium of glass, I never stuck with any of it. Today of course my digital ya ya’s can be satisfied quickly and easily. I can snap a photo with my phone and use an app to make all manner of cool images.
These of course can be edited quite easily with readily available software one need not be a professional to have. (although this one was edited by my friend Kevin Hughes who actually is a professional)
So… to get to my point. Which is about (as per my housemate’s query) how I was there for the early days of what later became “social” media.
Yep, I was there.
I first used computers (at all) in the late 70’s in high school. I wasn’t really into the computer science part at the time but I had fun chatting with college students on the Gopher Network. They were either at the University of Minnesota, Caltech or MIT and we had a science teacher who had a friend at the U of M. Back then, it was cool to just do that. Chat online. And then one time a Caltech student started sending me a pictures of nude women that I hung in my locker and I got caught and… well.
Dude! they were very tame, and in dot matrix so… come on!
Anyway, I didn’t even think about computers for social stuff again until the mid 90’s. I was living in Japan and I was realizing that keeping in touch with people back home by writing actual letters was causing me to lose touch with people. That didn’t bother me much but once I got a job at a language school that was also a computer school, I became more interested in interactive technology and how computers can connect people. Besides the stuff we did at work, I also got myself a top-of-the-line laptop (by 1995 standards in Japan) and got into some online communities. Active Worlds is one I used that still exists but my favorite, was one that I’d have to do some research to even find out what is was called. It was an experimental VRML world and I was a beta tester who didn’t choose to pay for the final product so I don’t know if it even lasted long enough for there to be much record of it.
But the online community that I used the most was the one associated with The Utne Reader.
Like I said, I’m going to write more about this in story form (and I need to get to work now) so I’ll go into more detail about it later, but my experience with the Utne site is where I found my way into seeing myself as a writer. I started with a writing group where we took Ursula K. Le Guin’s book Steering the Craft, did the exercises and posted our work and then critiqued each other online. It was great but then I started getting involved in the other areas of the community and this led to all kinds of stuff that (like I said) I’ll write about later. For now it will have to suffice to say that the community left a bad taste in my metaphorical mouth.
And when Facebook came, everything changed.
More on that…
Another Day, Another time.
Have a beautiful day.