The Tron effect

In 1982, I attended computer camp.

I know, this sounds like a "One time, at band camp. . ." story, but it's not. This was computer camp. It took place at the little-known Eastern Oregon State College, and it was the first year EOSC offered computer camp.

Growing up in Thorne Bay, Alaska, I realized I was odd. In sixth grade, the school district sent out an Apple ][. While others played Star Wars or Space Invaders, I studied Applesoft Basic. While others learned how to master Aztec, I delved into the mysteries of the Sweet16 assembler. When my mom told me her college was offering a whole month of computer studies for high school geeks like me, I couldn't wait.

That summer, I worked for my mom's boyfriend. He worked construction, and because he was about sixty years old, it felt strange calling him my mom's boyfriend, but that's what he was. That summer, I helped drywall, roof, and plumb new houses. About midsummer, I got my payday, and I applied and paid for computer camp.

That summer, I learned I was not alone.

The first day, we learned none of us were alone. We came from Walla-Walla Washington, and Pendleton Oregon, and Boise Idaho, and Thorne Bay Alaska. All of us thought we were the only geeks in the world. We didn't even know we were geeks. We just knew we loved and understood computers. We just knew that we were different from others around us, the football players, the basketball players, the stoners, the preppies (though they weren't known as preppies then).

There was Jack Frost, who couldn't order pizza because nobody would believe his name. There was Goatroper, who fell in love with Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend." There were two beautiful female geeks, and I don't remember their names. I just remember I tackled one, and we rolled down a small hill, and that was about the first female geek contact I ever had. And I remembered they were all geeks, like me, and I would never be alone again.

We had programming competitions, in which all of us eventually won books or software. We were all introduced to the Commodore PET 2001, and the TRS-80, and the Apple ][, and the Compucolor II. Mostly, though, we were all introduced to each other.

We spent the evenings playing Truth Or Dare on the campus lawn. We talked in bad British accents, trying to imitate Monty Python. We all learned that we were the same, as different as we were, from the completely different worlds from which we came.

We spent the days learning computers. We spent our breaks waiting for Tron commercials.

We all, each and every one of us, loved the Tron trailers. We couldn't wait for the movie. We made plans for the movie. We planned, and schemed, and vowed that we would all see it together. We would break curfew, and go the the movie as a geek gang, and see the movie the night it opened.

And so we did.

I didn't tell my mom I wouldn't be home until after midnight. After camp let out for the night, we marched downtown, speaking in our bad British accents, reciting our Monty Python schticks, and waited for the movie to start. When the movie began, we cheered the hero, and loved the digitizing bit, and didn't even cringe during the bad dialog. This was all Computer Revolution, baby, and when it came right down to it, there was nothing any of us would rather do than make movies like Tron.

After, we made our way to the local donut shop, which opened at midnight. We ate donuts as they came off the conveyor belt, and recited lines from the movie, and reveled in each other's company, because we were united as geeks. We realized we had experienced the Ultimate Geek Movie together, and that united us in brotherhood.

And after that, we went our separate ways, and to this day, I do not know what happened to Jack Frost, or Goatroper, or those two wonderful female geeks. I just know that I am a better person for the experience, for the discovery of a kind of unity.

My world today is shaped by the sudden knowledge that I am not alone. My meager contributions to free software comes because of my feeling of belonging. I belong not just to Jack Frost, and not just to Goatroper, and not even just to geeks. I belong to the whole world. And the whole world belongs to me.

We all have these moments that define who we are to become. I was defined the moment I understood I was not alone. I believe free software defines who we are, those of us who are not alone. I know we define what free software is. And to that end, my contribution is merely this:

We are all in this together. We either rise together, or we fall together.

And I intend to rise.


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