The Homebrew Computer Club where the Apple I got its start is deservedly famous—but it’s far from tech history’s only community gathering centered on CPUs. Throughout the 70s and into the 90s, groups around the world helped hapless users figure out their computer systems, learn about technology trends, and discover the latest whiz-bang applications. And these groups didn’t stick to Slacks, email threads, or forums; the meetings often happened IRL.
But to my dismay, many young technically-inclined whippersnappers are completely unaware of computer user groups’ existence and their importance in the personal computer’s development. That’s a damned shame. Our current reality may largely be isolated to screens, but these organizations helped countless enthusiasts find community because of them. Computer groups celebrated the industry’s fundamental values: a delight in technology’s capabilities, a willingness to share knowledge, and a tacit understanding that we’re all here to help one another.
And gosh, they were fun.
I wonder if we’ll ever see a rebound, the pendulum swinging back, where people who grew up in the screen age long for more personal contact and reignite the interest in these old-fashioned user groups. After the current crisis is over, of course.