I'm sorry if the title of this post sounds like an exaggeration, because for years, I've told anyone who listens that I do feel that the adoption of email was a life changer for me.
Last week, I wrote about my first experience with online computing. I pick up the story in 1988, when Johnny Carson's nephew decided I needed a computer.
I should probably mention that at the time, I was employed at The Tonight Show, where my job was to type and distribute the scripts and otherwise support the staff of ten comedy writers. And that Johnny's nephew was one of the show's producers.
A typical work day for me would begin at 9:00 AM and end around one or two in the morning, after the writers had finished work on the following day's sketch, which I would then type and send to Carson's Malibu home via messenger. Johnny had just acquired a computer of his own, and so it was decided that from that point on, I would simply transmit the script directly to him via modem.
Except that it wasn't so simple in those early days of character-based computing. We tried to make it work a couple of times, but it did involve calling the house to let them know the script was coming (which wasn't exactly welcome when that occurred in the middle of the night). After about a week, they decided to invest in another newfangled electronic device that had just become affordable: a fax machine.
But I got to keep the computer, and I put all my energy into learning how to use it effectively. This was often at odds with my boss, the head writer, who begged me to go back to the IBM Selectric after a snafu with the daisy wheel printer delayed the script pages one day (there were times when the desk piece was being rewritten as Johnny was delivering the monologue; speedy typing was extremely important and it was frustrating to be held up by a piece of equipment).
I stuck to my guns (after you've experienced the ease of editing on a word processor, how can you go back to physically cutting and pasting?), and once I got over my learning curve, it all became easier -- especially after the daisy wheel was replaced with a speedy laser printer.
I mentioned that I put in some extremely long days -- but unlike "real world" offices, where you are pretty busy every minute of the day, television production back then was kind of a "hurry up and wait" proposition. Once I was given script pages, I would have to turn them out FAST -- but there wasn't a whole lot to do while the material was being written. I used this time to work on my own projects (I sold a sitcom script of my own while working there). And now that I had a modem with a line to the outside world, I had a new distraction:
Local Bulletin Board Systems. I started with one that was operated by the WGA (which I joined upon that first script sale). I developed a new habit: I'd come to work, distribute the day's newspapers to the writers, and then fire up the computer to see if I had any email.
I was addicted again. I purchased a computer for home, and I would unwind after work by hitting my favorite BBS sites.
By this time, the WGA wasn't enough -- I was active on several local "dating boards." Hey, when you're a woman in your 30's and spending all your time at work, how are you going to meet a nice guy to settle down with? By this time, I'd grown tired of the club scene and had concluded that if you hang out in bars, you're going to meet an awful lot of drunks.
The great thing about cyberdating before the advent of sites like Match.com is that back then, just being female made you instantly popular, as the ratio of men to women was about 10 to 1. You also needed to have attained a certain level of income and intelligence to have figured out how to get online in the first place -- and by getting to know people via email and chat, you could tell if they possessed a sense of humor.
I met my husband on one of these local boards -- back in 1989 (don't believe him when he says he picked me up in a bar, which for some reason he thinks sounds better!) It was a modern way to meet - but it also felt very old-fashioned, although instead of a packet of love letters tied with a ribbon, we had email saved to a 5 1/2" floppy disk (which we're unable to access now, but at least we made the effort to preserve it). I can't imagine what it would have looked like if we'd had the ability to send photos and videos back then!