Dinosaur Adventure Land

Hey, hey, 16K

A while back I blogged about MJ Hibbett, a British geek who writes catchy tunes about programming, code, and computers. He just released an online Flash video for his latest tune, “Hey, hey, 16K”, and it is just jaw-droppingly good — intercut with surreal scenes from games on old Sinclair home computers. Watch it here!

But what cracks me up most are the hilariously ironic lyrics. It opens up with:

We bought it to help with your homework

We bought it to help with your homework

And the household accounts

If your dad ever works it all out

Of course, the rest of the song is about how he spent all his time writing crappy games. Hibbert has put his finger on that odd cultural moment back in the 70s and early 80s, when a family could only justify buying a personal computer if it served “serious” purposes, such as household budgeting. Countless advertisements for Commodore 64s and Vic 20s would talk about how your mother could use it for “organizing recipes”. Even though a 70s-issue personal computer was just spectacularly unsuited to databasing recipes in kitchen, it didn’t matter: We still needed to pretend that these damn things were good for something important.

That’s because we all knew, secretly, that personal computers were really about games. Games were the reason young geeks pestered their folks to buy a computer; games were also the reason those geeks learned to program, so they could try to roll their own. Indeed, if it weren’t for games, the computer revolution would never have moved at such a lightning pace.

Yet still, the idea of wasting all that computing power on games seemed kind of silly. We couldn’t admit what we were doing with computers, even while we were doing it. There’s something about play that seems so frivolous that we cannot take it seriously — even when it’s a driving force in society.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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