I read the daily reruns of Peanuts online (a habit formed even before the volumes of The Complete Peanuts started being published and kept up to the point where now there's the interest of seeing how the strips have been coloured and there's some interest to be found in the comments), but my newspaper is still re-running For Better or For Worse. While in the last years of the actual comic strip things had shifted to a combination of sentiment and melodrama that seemed to trigger certain groups of people online in a quite unpleasant way, I can at least avoid thinking too much now of my own reactions to all of that in these current "good old days." It's easy enough to see the comic strip as more or less timeless; however, when I read the latest Sunday page
(which my paper has always run on Saturdays) I experienced the electric shock of connection to a certain topic of recent history my personal interest in may push to odd levels.
The page had Michael and his friend Brian programming "this neat jumping man on the computer!"; after Michael has enthused to his mother Elly about how "It took us hours! Just look at the length of the printout!", Elly replies she can "do the same thing in minutes with two pieces of paper!" Understanding what sort of capabilities the home computers of the 1980s had, I also know there was an undercurrent
of "but what actual good
are they?" from people who made a big show of being pragmatic; I suppose it's interesting to see one more example of that even as I remember how around the middle of the decade the fad went a different
kind of "soft", whose who'd embraced "systems exploration" and "cyber-utopianism" were left with a hangover
, and things were left in a limbo I'm not quite as familiar with to be re-colonized in the next decade by elaborations of a rather more uniform "business standard."
If it's the contrast between "then" and "now" that makes this particular comics page stand out to me, I can suppose that nowadays you might well make two (or more) drawings on paper, scan them into a computer, and enhance the drawings to make a simple animation that way; I can then wonder about that being much more a matter of "using programs someone else has written and sold" than "working on a low level," except that I can turn around and wonder if even "assembly language
" might then be taken to a still lower level of first principles, such that there is something to "accepting and building on the work of others." Having familiarized myself with the Apple II in particular of late, I am inclined to think it wouldn't be that hard to create a "flip-book" even in Applesoft BASIC by using the computer's two "graphics pages"; I then wondered if the "computer" in the Sunday page could be taken to be an Apple II, and how easily the same sort of thing could be done with any other home computer, whether the Commodore 64 with its "superior hardware" much less accessible to a casual programmer or my own family's Radio Shack Color Computer, which in its very first incarnation might also look like the "computer" drawn. However, all of that doesn't quite distract me from thinking a bit of how the comics page could be interpreted to get indignant about Elly "being condescending" to kids "who'll never grow up to be successful programmers now,"
which I'm afraid brings me back to one particular starting point.