[vcf-midatlantic] The good old days of user groups.

Herb Johnson hjohnson at retrotechnology.info
Tue Aug 25 16:53:12 EDT 2020

[I wrote this but I put it aside, because who wants to hear what boomers 
did in the 1970's? But the discussion thread seems to be rooted in the 
1980's when computers were things you bought at Sears and there were 
actual *computer stores* around, and BBS's you could dial up,
and local computer clubs aplenty in any good sized town. There was a 
time before all that, you know.

Except: most people I hear from, don't "know that". Things then, were 
very different from the times in ongoing discussion; and from times 
today. So, here it is. Pardon the length, this is unfamiliar to most who 
would read it, so I have to give background.- Herb]

The generation of "computer clubs" of the mid 1970's, are of a period 
before most of the clubs and groups in discussion. I co-started one of 
the first such clubs in Columbus OH; attended others as they were created.

Chronologically: Clubs & groups exploded in size and number once 
personal computers became production items and then commodity items, in 
and through the 1980's. BBS's in the period, reduced the need for 
physical meetings at clubs. By the 1990's there were: widespread dial-up 
Internet; with sufficient bandwidth and graphics and modem speed; and 
generic computers easily bought at stores (or online) fast enough to 
support Internet browsing. So the physical groups dissipated in size and 
number going through the 1990's and pooped out by 2000 or so, 

In the early days of the mid-70's, we got together because there was no 
other means to obtain and share computing devices and figure them out. 
The providers were, electronic kits or parts or surplus One bought from 
ads in electronics magazines. Or that surplus-store some towns had. Or 
surplus/trash from someone's company or a local university. We were our 
own tech support; and whatever kit-producing-engineers we got LETTERS 
and phone calls from; and again, the magazines.

There were no personal computers in production in that early era; just 
things people built, or one bought used minicomputers and their 
terminals and printers. Then there were these new microprocessors that 
some technical people were buying to play with, or beginning to use 
professionally, or learn about in college. As a host of microcomputer 
items were produced, we'd buy 'em and compare notes. Same with things 
like terminals, modems, other categories of software and hardware.

All these transactions are described, by the surviving computer-club 
paper newsletters one can find online. Some clubs *didn't even meet*: 
they were pure correspondence; newletters were contents of member's 
letters about their projects, reports on software and hardware.

Most people did not have a lot of money to spend; most computer things 
were not cheap; technical skills were essential, not optional. Clubs let 
people pick each other's brains, share and trade "tech". Even when 
personal computers were more common, there would be clubs or sections of 
clubs about specific software: databases, word processing, business. 
There was no other institution to learn this stuff; otherwise one read 
"books" or "magazines" or "da manuals and schematics".

These clubs that met, were much like other hobby clubs to this day. They 
printed newsletters and postal mailed them monthly (mimeograph or 
photocopies). We met at a home or sometimes an institution (university, 
library, museum). There was a meeting with minutes and resolutions and 
other business, then a presentation. People stayed a bit to chat before 
or after. Members also met at each other's homes to work on their own 
computers and to trade. Sometimes there was a meeting to trade things. 
There were dues, to pay for postage and printing, snacks, rent for the 
meeting space.

The legacy these groups left behind, are the newsletters with technical 
content; the archives of software and manuals, which get mined often; 
and the survivors, who continue their vintage computing interests in 
varying degrees.

Radio Amateur clubs today still do most of these things, by the way. And 
in these early years, computer-clubs used hamfests to obtain and trade 
scarce equipment. Dealers at hamfests were either "computer" or "radio", 
generally. The Hams got to tap this tech, and developed lots of ham 
computing tech; they supported early microcomputing. Some hams were 
unhappy about this alliance, which peaked in the 1990's when PC's were 
common. Computing stuff is now largely gone from hamfests.

I know many other hobbies still operate as clubs as I've described. 
There is a social dimension to these organizations that all the online 
click-to-get activities cannot provide. And many clubs have activities 
which require multiple people to participate physically in some way. No 
mailed newsletters today, usually.

However, all these clubs today which operate as I've described, seem to 
be predominantly run by and populated with "old people". There's a 
generational change in culture, as well as the technological changes I 
described. That would be another lecture: one today is enough.

regards, Herb Johnson
Herbert R. Johnson, New Jersey in the USA
http://www.retrotechnology.com OR .net
preserve, recover, restore 1970's computing
email: hjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT com
or try later herbjohnson AT retrotechnology DOT info

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