s3e12: This Generation’s Commodore 64 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

2:17pm on Wednesday, 13th April 2016 at the XOXO Outpost in Portland again. I’ve spent most of the day idly falling around the internet (still lovingly uncapitalised) while at the same time trying to do some work on TRIPLICATE which is due by the end of next month to one of my clients. The extent of my work so far on TRIPLICATE has been to a) find other things that TRIPLICATE might look like to pattern-match off of (structure, contents, all that malarkey), and then b) to start putting together a sort of skeleton for TRIPLICATE which as we all know just means sitting in front of an empty Google Docs window and banging your head repeatedly against the keyboard until the blunt force trauma results in a numbered list of elements. I eagerly await the advent of brain-computer interfaces that obviate the need for all this head/keyboard blunt-force trauma and instead you just *think* about hitting the keyboard with your head and then words magically fall out.

Listening to: Odessa by Caribou, which is a good job because if you’d asked me about three minutes and twenty seconds ago, it would’ve been After All (“Love Theme from Chances Are”) by Cher and Pete Cetera and the only saving roll I can do with *that* is to say that at least the movie Chances Are starred Robert Downey Jr. so I guess in some way it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I regain my cred with you all. Let’s just say that this particular playlist I’m listening to is no more or no less eclectic than any of the others in my iTunes library and that people who’ve been on the same local network as me know why my iTunes share is called The Piranha Tank. You never know if you’re going to shuffle on to something that will bite your hand off.

1.0 This Generation’s Commodore 64

So there’s a piece going around on Medium claiming that the HTC Vive could be “our generation’s Commodore 64” to which I have to admit that my first reaction was: hang on, a we’re talking about a $799.00 VR headset[1] alongside a cheapish ~$900 Gibson Deck[2] (it’s cheaper if you Gibson it yourself) comes out to around $1,700 in 2016 US late-capitalism dollars. Along side, if you’re doing it properly, a room that you can use the thing in. This, I felt, does not feel affordable.

What I get for opportunistically tweeting an opinion about how it’s a bit weird we can call a $1,700 VR rig “this generation’s Commodore 64” is a chorus of people pointing out that ACTUALLY, yes, it is kind of like this generation’s Commodore 64 because when the C64 was first launched in 1982 (34 years ago!) it cost $595 in cold-war pre-late-capitalism-dollars (excluding television to plug it into, natch), which amounts to around $1,500 2016 US pre-spasm dollars. So yes. I suppose in Real Money Terms, or bitcoins or whatever, a VR rig is this generation’s Commodore 64 if you remember that both groups of people were and are pretty privileged. Of course, back in 1982, you probably wouldn’t have bought an *extra* television just to plug your C64 in to, you would’ve been using it in the living room most likely (if you were British), I remember that by the late 1980s, us British youngsters were dimly aware of the concept of American kids having *their own televisions* which is almost like giving a kid a mobile phone these days.

I suppose the niggling feeling I have is that, hey, I guess it’s great that the children/young-people of the middle/upper-middle-class have another chance to climb on to a technologically induced ladder like us late-Gen-Xers did with having the fortune to be living in households where the parents would bring computers home from work for the weekend or, eventually, a computer would be bought home to, I don’t know, “do the taxes” or something. But VR isn’t disruptive socially because it’s just more rich toys for the rich people, whereas the genuine change in technology has been pushing it down the stack and it getting cheaper and more transparent. I get that a VR rig can be “like” a Commodore 64 in that you can tinker with it and create worlds with it and, if we’re really talking about being back in the 1980s these days, kickstart a curiosity with compute/algorithm-based thinking that would stand you in good stead a couple of decades later, BUT: what’s *better* than that? Is it the mobile computer in a pocket? Is that as good or a better ladder up for social mobility and learning a, uh, monetizable skill? Or is it more like a $199 Chromebook with a devkit?

I keep thinking about this: what are the things that I learned *because of computers* that make me[citation needed] useful or valuable in today’s economic world? Spoiler: the answer is that I’m “useful” and “valuable” no matter what skills I have in how I’m able to talk to computers. But, of course, that doesn’t stop me from dropping a good $150 on a whim (yes, I’m privileged) on getting my three year old a BB-8 Sphero on the grounds that I can use it to teach him Scratch and algorithmic thinking in a couple years time[3].

So, perhaps a rephrase of the “what’s the equivalent of getting your kid a Commodore 64” question is: what’s the biggest return-on-investment (ugh, sorry) you think you can get for spending $1,500 on what right now looks like something that could be a kid’s hobby and doesn’t look serious yet?

For the Brits, it turns out that a 48K Spectrum[4] was GBP 175 in Margaret Thatcher pounds, which makes it around GBP 600 in Cameron Tax Dodge Euro Exile pounds, a bit cheaper than a Commodore 64 – launching at GBP 399 Margaret Thatcher pounds in 1984[5], making it around GBP 1216 in Cameron We’re All In This Together pounds.

(A not-really-an aside: there’s nothing like misremembering a home computer as being cheap and accessible than looking it up and realising that it would cost $1,500 in today’s dollars to make you feel disgustingly privileged and grateful to your parents in indulging in such an expensive gift or holiday present.)

[0] The HTC Vive Could Be our Generation’s Commodore 64 — IRL VR FTW — Medium
[1] Vive
[2] Ars System Guide, VR edition: Cheap VR, great VR, and optional 4k craziness | Ars Technica
[3] Tickle: Program Star Wars BB-8 Droid, Drones, Arduino, Dash and Dot, Sphero, Robots, Hue, Scratch, and Smart Homes on your iPhone and iPad
[4] Nick Sweeney on Twitter: “@hondanhon The 48k Spectrum was £175 in 1982 which is £600 in 2016 GBP; that a) surprised me b) makes me even more grateful to my parents.”
[5] The Commodore 64 turned 30 today • Eurogamer.net

2.0 Confluence

Some notes:

– The Amazon Echo is turning Hunter Walk’s kid into an asshole[0]; called it in newsletter s2e14: What You’ll Reap[1] back in August last year and by Ben Hammersley in mid July last year[2].

– Warren Ellis recently wrote in morning.computer[3] about the datification[4] (following gamification, etc.) of work, where Atlassian had created Teamder[5], a sort of Tinderified, uh, team productivity thing? Ellis wrote about the datification of work on April 1 2016, so 12 days ago and today Business Insider (sigh) covers the news that Tinder has now made it easy for you to share Tinder profiles into Slack[6], which is totally one data point for Ellis accurately finding bits of present and mining them to be useful in… twelve days time.

[0] Amazon Echo Is Magical. It’s Also Turning My Kid Into an Asshole. | Hunter Walk
[1] s2e14: What You’ll Reap; Foo Thoughts; The Next Generation
[2] Possible Problems of Persona Politeness — Ben Hammersley
[3] MORNING, COMPUTER | Warren Ellis on British Summer Time
[4] The Datification Of Work | MORNING, COMPUTER
[5] Teamder – Swipe right to create teams at work | Atlassian
[6] You can share Tinder dates with coworkers – Business Insider

OK, that’s all for now. Back to TRIPLICATE and answering a bunch of emails which is so mundane as to not require a codename at all.

Best,

Dan