I was still in elementary school when I realized I would probably graduate from college in the year 2000 (which mostly leads to the question: What little kid thinks about that kind of thing?). Weird little kid that I apparently was, I remember how cool that big, round, futuristic number sounded.
My generation were the real millennials, and not just because of that pretty ’00 on our “Class of” T-shirts. I think back now to the timeline of my coming-of-age and how that paralleled the rapid revolution in tech — and how that shaped our skills, interests, perceptions. When I started college, at a time when AOL dial-up was still new-fangled, each dorm room had high-speed Internet connections. I remember typing in www.redsox.com (it says a lot that that was the first site to come to mind) and my shock at how it instantaneously appeared in my screen.
Each student was assigned an email address, which became my main method of communication for assuring my mother that I was alive. It was still early enough in the concept of email that we were assigned an address based on our initials. Not having a number affixed to the end of your initials carried with it a certain sense of exclusiveness (or maybe I just felt that way because I was the first rfc).
(An aside: As evidence of how central email became to our college lives, I can still recite many of my friends’ addresses. There were some great ones: tlc, tmi, krs1. One friend who was pre-med had med5 — it seemed particularly disappointing when he decided he no longer wanted to be a doctor.)
And what does Internet access mean? Viral Internet fads, of course! Early my freshman year, a high school friend sent along a link to a site that he said he and his buddies were wasting hours of time on. Sure enough, soon my friends had caught the bug, too. It was The Love Calculator (which, I was thrilled to discover, still exists, and still looks the same as it did in the mid-90s). We would spend entire evenings plugging in our names, celebrity names, crushes’ names, small animals’ names.
My sophomore year, I think it was, I needed to complete a math requirement and didn’t want to take more calculus — and had heard the intro computer science course wasn’t too arduous. (I could come up with a more inspired explanation, but, hey, that’s what really happened.) We learned Java, of which I recall very little. Yet I have no doubt that when I started teaching myself to code last fall, a vague notion of concepts like object-oriented programming still lived somewhere in my brain and made the process a bit less daunting.
We were assigned to create a simple app; a Hangman game was recommended. That seemed awfully dull and unoriginal, so when I started brainstorming other options, suddenly the choice was obvious: Make my own Love Calculator.
I think I designed some sort of very simple algorithm using random numbers and values for letters as a way to convert two names (they needed to be first names only and all lowercase) to a match percentage. A friend who was in another lab section reported back to me that he overheard the T.A.’s grading my project and gushing about how cool it was. It wasn’t clear if they were more impressed by the basic concept of a Love Calculator (which of course I merely copied — giving full credit to the original on my page, I promise) or my design skills. But either way, I felt for the first time that particular satisfaction of tickling someone’s imagination with something you built.
(A postscript: As a senior, while working on a thesis and doing tons of reporting and taking English classes and so forth, I realized I needed at least one math-y course to rest the reading/writing side of my brain. I took a different intro Java class, and all I remember about it was we used a program that allowed us to create animations through coding. Or, specifically, all I remember is that one of the built-in characters in the animation program was Barney — well, it was called “Purple Dinosaur,” but we all knew it was Barney — and one of the commands you could execute was to lop off characters’ limbs. So this being a bunch of college students, seemingly every single one of our projects involved decapitating Barney in some way.)