The story has been passed around about a switch hidden in the back of a PDP-10 in the artificial intelligence lab at MIT. A staff member discovered it during routine maintenance. One position on the switch was marked "MAGIC" and the other position was marked "MORE MAGIC." No one knew what it did. The easiest way to find out was to throw the switch. The switch was thrown and the system crashed. To find out what happened the wiring was traced. On one side the switch was attached to ground. The other side of the switch was just dangling in the air. The only explanation was magic had been building up in the switch for all the years the computer had been operating.
My first experience with computers came as an under-graduate at Michigan State University. As a freshman I was assigned to a beginning public speaking class that met in the University Computer Center. On the first day of classes I wandered through the Computer Center looking for my speech classroom. I found a room marked computer viewing room. Having looked everywhere else for my speech class I went in. The viewing room was air-conditioned, rather unusual for a university building thirty-three years ago. It was furnished with a pair of futuristic plastic pedestal chairs, a futuristic coffee table and thick blue shag carpeting. The room looked like the crews' recreation room on "Star Trek." One wall of the viewing room had a large plate glass window in it. On the other side of the glass was an IBM 1620 computer. There were three men in white lab coats running around the computer like drones servicing a queen bee. The computers' memory capacity was 24,000 characters. Wow, isn't science wonderful. I was impressed! Today we'd call that 24K bytes. A 4 megabyte SIMM can be purchased for under $20.00, at most 7-11's in Palo Alto.
That same semester my roommate was signed up to take "Engineering Communication," a euphemism for a computer literacy course. Each evening he would pack all of his homework into a book bag and trudge off to the Computer Center. He'd return about midnight frustrated to the point of tears carrying a stack of IBM cards and some green and white printouts covered with cryptic notations about errors.
The process to produce this considerable level of frustration must have been arrived at by a mind equal to Dante. The first step was to stand in line ten to twenty minutes to type your program on a keypunch machine. If you made a typo on a card you would have to retype the entire line. The time limit on the keypunch was ten minutes then it was back to the end of the line. If you were a hunt and peck typist you were in for a long stint. Once your program was typed you would turn it in at the I/O window and wait a half-hour until your program was run. The process was setup to maintain high throughput for university jobs. Student FORTRAN jobs were run only on the hour and the half hour. When you got your program back it was back in line to re-keypunch the cards with errors.
I was delighted with my decision to take Speech Communication not Engineering Communication. In speech we gave a five-minute speech about once every other week and everyone in class applauded no matter how bad your speech was. I determined then and there to avoid computers totally! This was my first experience with computer anxiety and I hadn't even had the experience to provoke it myself. I just observed my roommate's frustration.
My next experience with computer anxiety came about nine years later when I was in graduate school at Wayne State. I got talked into taking a service course from one of the other departments entitled "Computer Uses in Research." During the time I was in grad school I was the only student that I was aware of taking a computer course. The operating system had improved greatly while I sat on the computing sidelines. Wayne had an IBM 360 /67, real heavy metal for those days. The system ran MTS, a time-share operating system. Each user sat at a Selectric typewriter terminal and entered programs using a line editor. The prospect of taking a computer course terrified me. I got an ID and password the first class meeting. The next day I went to a public terminal in the University Library to experiment with the computer and see if there were any computer-games like football or golf available. I sat down at one of the terminals and logged in. I typed in football. The computer did nothing. I tried typing in "play football." The computer did nothing. I tried "run football." Again nothing. I tried one thing and another for about a half-hour and got nowhere. In frustration I typed "go to hell." The computer replied "HELL DOES NOT EXIST." Woody Allen said that inanimate objects are anti-Semitic and now I was sure they were agnostic too. I grabbed the plug and pulled it from the wall, like Rex Reason, the scientist who built an alien machine in the "B" science fiction movie "This Island Earth." It was a couple of weeks before I got my nerve up enough to go back and try the computer again. It was some months before I learned that the operating system just responded to a "GOTO" as a file seeking command.