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February 17, 2014

The 1980s Nerd Party

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

It didn’t happen often, but computer nerds of the 1980s would get together and party.

My first nerd party was the Macintosh party that took place after the PMS Commando parachute jump, back in April of 1984. I don’t recall too many specifics about the party since it happened so long ago, but it was my first nerd party ever.

Nerds aren’t social today, and that was even more true back then. Those few of us who used modems to communicate were kinda social. We knew each other, but had never met. In fact, it’s unusual to know people’s names and a bit about them, but not recognize their faces. That’s backwards from the way most social interaction works where you see someone first and then get to know them.

Generally speaking, I remember beer was available at the party. I remember sodas, including diet Coke. The diet Coke ran out well before the beer did. And lots of people didn’t drink any beer at all. In fact, when I held my own nerd party, I had plenty of beer left over.

For food, I remember snacks. Chips and dips. The nerds ate sweets and salts. I believe some of the parties had barbecue.

Of course, the most odd thing was that people occasionally brought computers to the party. In fact, the computer was to nerds what a stereo would have been for a party held by non-nerds: The non-nerds would listen to music or, I suppose, dance, while us nerds would watch a computer screen.

“Look at me write a program in only four lines of code,” I remember one nerd saying at a party. And, by golly, he did. It was the Fourth Language, which is nearly forgotten today. It was one of the few languages available to the early Macintosh.

Weirder than not drinking beer was the notion that some nerd would bring his own food and drink to the party. Lots of nerds did so. It wasn’t to share, either: They simply brought their own nourishment. One guy even brought his own chair to sit in. Apparently he didn’t trust any of the chairs at the host’s house.

I remember meeting people for the first time and liking a lot of them. They were good, fun people who I enjoyed in life as much as I did online. I even hung out with them for regular non-nerd activities like going out to eat or see a show. Other nerds were just damn strange.

One guy in particular arrived on a moped. He folded the thing up and wore it on his back the entire party. Finally, I explained to him him how it was a peculiar thing to do. He replied that he didn’t want the bike stolen. I admired his candor in implying that thieves lurked at the party. He didn’t understand.

Today, people watch a TV show like The Big Bang Theory and laugh at the nerds. Those characters are parodies, of course, but not too far from the mark. Attending nerd parties in the 1980s demonstrated to me that such people, charming or weird, do exist. And their definition of party is just as strange as they are.

4 Comments

  1. Hi,
    I found the Geek party has changed…Once every one used to bust out there computers at someones house and consume junk food and either create programs / debug code, get an opion of would it work. That stopped and now the last one I went to in person was all Consoles…
    Also the UK seems to have a hardware/ vintage computing scene that is slightly different I think to US & European. We seem to have a thing for older 8-bit machines that noone else does, I guess the UK produced more 8-bits (Sinclair, Grundy, Acorn, RM & others)? The US had Commodore (so did we), Apple & ?
    Glenn

    Comment by glennp — February 21, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

  2. In 1985 or so, I was sent to the UK (well, England) to research computers. At the time there were two computer faires in town. (I forget if these events were in London or Birmingham.) The first was an Apple thing. Apple IIs were all around, as were Macintoshes. They were VERY expensive in England. In fact, only the blue bloods could afford a Mac. Then we went over to the other computer faire, which centered around the Acorn as well as other systems, Sinclair and so on.

    Man! What a difference. The Acorn/Sinclair crowd was enthusiastic, energetic and excited. They were real folks finding real solutions and clever ways to use their computers. It was a world of difference. That fair reminded me more of the States and our homebrew computer clubs at the time.

    Comment by admin — February 21, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

  3. Mmm… Sinclair always was more game oriented than Acorn, worth a watch if you can find it on You Tube is the BBC thing Micro Men, my Childhood!

    Comment by glennp — February 22, 2014 @ 3:50 am

  4. That would probably explain why I focused more on the Acorn. My duties in England were to document the various versions of the BASIC programming language. Some of the systems I worked on had some uniquely clever approaches.

    The Sinclair was imported to the US about that time, known here as the Timex Sinclair. They were great machines.

    Comment by admin — February 22, 2014 @ 8:44 am

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