Question Weekend Question: How Did You Learn About Tech Before the Internet?

SHaines

Community Manager
Staff member
Apr 1, 2019
220
146
760
0
Greetings!

We're kicking off our Question of the Week series today with a look back in time. In the days before the Internet put everything at your fingertips, what was your go-to method for learning about the latest tech?

My absolute favorite thing in the world was to get the Sunday San Jose Mercury News and go through the ads for places like Fry's Electronics and Circuit City. They had some glossy catalogs that described magical new tech that I could never afford (being about 11) but I still pored over every item to learn all that I could.

So, how did you scratch the tech itch in the olden days?
 
I learned what little I could from my father and the school computer lab. Manuals were thick tomes. Which I took the time to read. There were tech magazines and books. Opening up a world of hardware and software. As kids actually rode their bikes home. I'd stop at computer stores and ask questions. Much of my interest was fueled by gaming. Forcing me to learn tech specs. I also fooled around with the OS. Learning commands to operate the computer and check for problems.

A lot was trial and error. Such as trying all the buttons on the remotes to see what they did. Opening a VCR to remove a tape. Daisy chaining RF adapters for video game consoles. Playing with a camcorder. Building and subsequently fixing hobby RC cars.

Frankly I think it is a better way to learn. Online searches focuse too much on zeroing in on a solution to a problem. You don't ge,t a chance to learn anything if a specific answer to a specific question is given. This doesn't give you the why something works the way it does. Just how to accomplish a task.

There are great online resources to learn with. Unfortunately, most people just want the quick and easy answer. Which is too readily available online.
 
Reactions: froggx

jpishgar

Splendid
Overlord Emeritus
For me, it was Computer Shopper. This big behemoth phone book sized magazine you could find at supermarkets. I would pore through it for weeks at a time, and it was almost entirely ads. Even so, it gave one a feel for making wishlists and dream rigs. It had hardware, software, and a few games.

During trips to the mall, I was also able to absorb through osmosis by hanging out in WaldenSoft. Their computers on display always had at least a few games up, whether it was Lemmings or Police Quest. I have an almost visceral memory of the sights, sounds, and smells of WaldenSoft during the dawn of computer hardware.
 
I had "computer systems" before internet became what it is today but wouldn't go so far as to say I knew anything about them on a deeply technical level, or cared to. I didn't become active in "let's try this part with that part" and on to repairing/repurposing or even building my own machines until much later, and after the internet was recognizable as much like it is today.

As a side to the question though, I was VERY interested in audio electronics for both home and car at a young and pre-internet age. Aside from practically living in any local electronics shop that wouldn't chase me out, magazines and print ads were the place to find info and/or hype.
 
Reactions: SHaines

ex_bubblehead

Champion
Moderator
Back in the day manufacturers actually included (useful) manuals with their equipment, this included such things as schematics. I can remember entire rooms filled with tech manuals and reference/user guides. When I worked for Tektronix I would carry around all of my tech references on microfiche (8 lbs of it) along with a portable reader. Now manufacturers treat the schematics and tech manuals as state secrets, to be guarded against disclosure at all cost.
 

Corwin65

Admirable
For me, it was Computer Shopper. This big behemoth phone book sized magazine you could find at supermarkets. I would pore through it for weeks at a time, and it was almost entirely ads. Even so, it gave one a feel for making wishlists and dream rigs. It had hardware, software, and a few games.

During trips to the mall, I was also able to absorb through osmosis by hanging out in WaldenSoft. Their computers on display always had at least a few games up, whether it was Lemmings or Police Quest. I have an almost visceral memory of the sights, sounds, and smells of WaldenSoft during the dawn of computer hardware.
Computer Shopper for me was the best way to learn about hardware at that time. I learned so much doing the same as you. When I finally got my first 386SX I knew it was the absolute best I could get at that budget.

I was also lucky to be part of a some really good BBS communities.
 

mangaman

Honorable
Jun 13, 2015
591
57
11,240
86
I went to my public library every weekend and read magazines and books. Sure some of the books were old and quite beat up, but I still enjoyed reading them nevertheless. I also rented VHS tapes about computers and such. I still remember the "Please be kind and rewind" on the cover.
 
Reactions: SHaines and COLGeek
Magazines. I read from cover to cover. At first I didn't know most of what they were talking about, but over the course of several months and years, I started picking it up. Computer Shopper was like 3 inches thick and about 2/3 of it was ads. But even the ads had information about what components were popular back then.
 
Sep 30, 2019
5
5
15
0
I co-owned a small computer store in a small town. I voraciously devoured PC Gamer, Byte, and Wired (when it was more tech-oriented). I also loved Popular Mechanic. Magazine day was always Sunday, a glorious ritual. Picked them up at the local newstand, went for lunch and coffee with my partner, and read all afternoon.

I definitely appreciate the ease of information access now, and the rapid publishing process, but I do miss those days. No cell phone to beep at me, no pressure to be "productive" on a Sunday.
Yeah, I'm old. get off my lawn. :)
~LC
 

yaggaz

Honorable
Nov 17, 2013
83
2
10,535
0
I got all the latest from Bob “Shady Tech” McCleese. We’d meet in dark alleys and I’d grease his palm with cash and he’d give me all the latest reviews on games and tech hardware. The Apple cops would turn up and we’d have to split real fast.

Also me truthfully: PC and Gaming magazines or long chats at the local tech store
 

mkaafy

Proper
Jan 14, 2020
178
16
115
12
Magazines! The ones I used to read weren't globally well-known but still in my country tech enthusiasts used to buy a new issue weekly or monthly. Some of them even had a CD attached. The CD contained tech videos, free softwares, etc. There were articles from reviewing a new motherboard to something like "what CPU-Z actually is", trending tech news and everything.

Also, there were some know-it-all guys in tech that my old friends and I would ask them silly questions and request files that weren't easily downloadable through a Dial-Up connection. They were Mr. Google to us.

Ahh, I miss that era so much.
 

Eximo

Titan
Ambassador
I would go to the local computer show and talk to vendors, read motherboard manuals, etc. So basically direct consumption of marketing materials. Drew most of the small computer stores in the Midwest, foreign resellers, software and multimedia pirates, and junk dealers.

Many mistakes were made but it was certainly a more direct computer part shopping experience.
 
decades ago at the old Wal-Mart when Sam Walton was still around and it was still a great place to shop. they had a pretty nice electronics department with a lot of games for every console and computers.

Sears & Electronics Boutique at our local mall. and of course Radio Shack.

our local library had a section in the basement of tech magazines & old hardware manuals. and would host gaming nights for old computer gamers. I took my old Apple IIe down there many times. it was always filled with discussions about audio, video and gaming. I had a 3'² box filled with games & software I had copied onto floppy disk from others there.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY

TRENDING THREADS