Google celebrated the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man's release today be putting up it's first ever playable logo doodle. I came across it myself earlier today when I arrived at Google's homepage.
Always being one to take advantage of any excuse to put off actually working, I played a couple quick games on it. Aside from having to use your mouse instead of a joystick, it was a lot like the real game on a smaller scale.
Coming across Pac-Man on Google like that got me to thinking a bit about what computers were when Pac-Man came out compared to what they are now.
The computer was still something of a novelty or a luxury item back in 1980. Similar to the automobile around 1915: interesting and perhaps a bit trendy, but none-to-practical. Back then most of us interacted with computers by playing video games like Pac-Man in arcades or on Atari systems at home.
I can remember teachers and friends of my parents talking about how important computers were going to be at the time. Since my only experience of computers at that point was playing video games, this sounded hopeful to me.
Much like the automobile, the computer grew into itself over the next fifteen years. By 1995 the computer was like the automobile in the early 1930s: here to stay.
In the fifteen years between Pac-Man and 1995, which is approximately when the dot.com boom began, computers laid the groundwork that would forever integrate them into our lives. Much as the automobile did in the 1920s.
Just as better roads and highways helped the automobile proliferate, it was the information superhighway that really entrenched the computer in our day-to-day lives. Before the Internet, having a computer was kind of like having a car before highways. It was kind of neat, but it really couldn't get you anywhere.
Computers and the Internet have liberated people in a way that closely parallels the manner in which the automobile liberated people in the mid-20th century. Back then cars and highways made us free to explore the entire country. In the 1990s computers and the Web made us free to explore the entire universe, virtually at least.
Essentially, computers, like cars, have helped human beings to close distances. They've made communication easier which has the effect of bringing people closer together. Both cars and computers have been instrumental in bringing us closer to the "Global Village" idea put forth by Marshall McLuhan.
Unfortunately all that bring together has not been without some fall-out.
One thing we are more acutely aware of now than we were back when Pac-Man came out is that the global village has got quite a few streets on it that you don't want to walk down.