Saturday, October 22, 2011
Way back in the early 1970s while I was working at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley somebody at the nearby Lawrence Hall of Science got a brilliant idea. Maybe deaf people could communicate with each other at a distance by sending computer signals as if they were telegrams.
They ran some phone lines over the hill to our campus and connected them to several teletypewriters or TTYs. Those devices were about five feet square and two feet deep and had keyboards.
It worked! They could actually access material on the computer at their lab.
Computers were scary, but we were required to attend training and learn to use that technology before it became available for the students.
I sat in front of the contraption and tried a program called "Dorothea" after a famous psychologist named Dorothea Dix. The program was supposed to help students cope with emotional problems by encouraging them to share their feelings.
I'd had college classes in psychology and knew the non-directive phrases like "How do you feel about that?" so I typed some of them in as responses to prompts and within a few minutes the computer had become confused and was sending me gibberish.
Whew! A computer wasn't smart enough to do those scary sci-fi things we'd heard about after all.
Of course today computers can do things we could only have imagined back then and they're part of our every day lives. I'm proud to have been involved in one of the very first internet communications.