Tech Purchases of Yesteryear

When I pulled down the Christmas decorations from the attic this weekend, I noticed that we’ve actually been in our house long enough that some of the file boxes we’d put up with “destroy by…” dates seven years in the future had actually come due. “What the heck” I thought, “Let’s do some shredding!”

Let me tell you now: the process of feeding old financial records into a shredder for hours on end does not a heartwarming trip down memory lane make. (Mostly it just made me think, “Jeez, have I ever blown a lot of money on stuff over the years!”) There were a couple of nice surprises when I found registration cards from customers of ComicBase 1.0 who said kind things about us—and it was even better when I realized that the name on the top of the card was still a customer over a decade later. The other highlight was coming across the source code for an online D&D game I wrote for a CDC Cyber mainframe back in high school, as well as a BBS system I wrote during a college summer I spent working in Michigan for Dow. There was even the manual for a quiz-making program: my first professional programming gig—for the TI 99/4A computer. All of these got spared the shredder’s wrath.

Not so lucky were the countless receipts for tech items and office equipment. Mostly these just served as a vivid reminder of the relentless march of progress, and how much cheaper and better computers have gotten over the years. I knew it was bad, but some of the receipts were almost physically painful to read, like the first time I bought a hard drive with more than 1 GB of space—for a mere $1,300. The $419 I apparently spent for a 9600 baud Hayes Smartmodem (circa the time ComicBase 1 was written) also hurt.

I was also shocked to see that the first CD-R drive I bought: a crazy-fast 2X model with a drive caddy for loading disks, cost exactly as much ($999.95) as the crazy-overpriced Blu-ray burning drive we bought last year so we could ship ComicBase Archive Blu-ray Edition and claim eternal bragging rights as the first PC software shipped on Blu-ray. A little over a decade earlier, we were one of the earlier—but nowhere near the first—software to actually fill up a CD with all of our picture and movie content for ComicBase 1.3.

At the same time, I noticed that the prices I’ve been paying for electricity, paper, inkjet cartridges, insurance, and so on really seemed quite similar to what I pay now. Sadly, so is my cell phone bill, although it now covers two phones instead of one, and I can’t think of the last time I had to stare nervously over my statement wondering if I’d gone over my allotted minutes and ended up paying outrageous “overage” fees. And yes, about 1/4 of my cell bill today is still a laundry list of indecipherable fees, taxes, and surcharges, just like it was ten years ago.

Sigh. Cue the pretentious French saying about the whole “the more things change…” thing, I guess…

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