Preserving the past 8-bits at a time

There have traditionally been two types of computer owners: Users and Creators (programmers). In the early days of home computers, long before the existence of software stores, if you had a computer, you had to be a programmer to do anything with it — even if doing something with it just meant blinking some lights.

Soon, these Creators had become so prolific that they created their biggest creation: Users. By the time the home computer market exploded during the 1980s, there were people buying computers who would never create anything. Their technical skills may have only required them to know how to plug everything up and type some commands to load a program.

The days of the Creator as the primary computer owner have passed. Slowly over the 90s and 2000s, Creators became just a small percentage of the computer owning population. Many early Creators themselves went on to become Users as they no longer has the desire (or perhaps skills) to create the things they needed to make a computer useful. Why reinvent the wheel by writing your own word processor if you could just buy Word Star?

Certainly, if you were a Creator, you may have the only copies in existence of anything you created, whether that be a BASIC program, a love letter to an old girlfriend, or version of the Ghostbusters theme song you hand entered from sheet music.

If you were just a User, there is a much greater chance that someone else also has a copy of that Color Baseball you used to play so much on the family TV when you were twelve. However, relying on “someone else” to preserve it doesn’t always work. Today there is much software that has been lost, seemingly, forever. Even if you were just a User, it might be worth looking through all your old stuff you have in storage. You might have the only copy of something left in existence. (At least, until someone else does the same. But if you find it first, that saves them the work, right?)

As to myself, I was a Creator. I had cassette tapes and floppy disks and hard drives full of programs, documents, letters, music files, home movie scripts, song lyrics, ideas, and more. These are mostly items I have not seen since the 1980s as I moved from one piece of technology to another (cassette to floppy drive to hard drive), never looking back. I expect only the current “needed” stuff ever got transferred to the next new format. Sadly, some of the things I Created are now gone forever as the only floppy disk the contained them are unreadable.

If you still have some old tapes, diskettes or hard drives from an early computer, consider doing an archiving project. You never know what you might find.

In future articles, I plan to start sharing some of the really cool things I have found from my past, and sharing some tips on migrating your old data — at least if you are migrating it from an old Radio Shack Color Computer.

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