I met up with my friend, Chuck, at a local watering hole the other night, and he sarcastically called me Mr. WordPerfect. (He’s a finance guy, so I wish I’d had the mental agility to have called him Mr. Lotus, but that’s how l’esprit de l’escalier works, doesn’t it?) As I’m notching my 15th anniversary in the freelance writing business this month, it made me think back on some of the software, hardware, and tech gadgets that have plugged in and out of my life over the years. Here’s my highlight list—please share some of your oldies-but-goodies in the comments!
WordPerfect. A better word processing program than Word, but in the freelance world you need to communicate with your clients in the programs they use, whether you like it or not. Even though I’m a Mac guy, I can’t bear to deal with Pages, since it would mean having two copies of each file and all the errors and management that would entail. For the record, I think it’s been all downhill for Microsoft since Word 5.1.
Hand-coded html. A little bit of html knowledge is helpful even with today’s more sophisticated tools. But holy cow, I did a screen grab of my hand-coded website as it looked back in 2001, and it is a horror of clunkiness. As neither a designer nor a computer whiz, one small error would destroy the formatting of the entire page. This is graphic evidence that I’m glad: 1) I invested in a freelance graphic designer to create a professional-looking page, and 2) I changed my company name. (Thanks to Katharine O’Moore-Klopf for the inspiration, via a retro website post in her recent Facebook #tbt.)
Zip drives. Since this was my backup method of choice in the days before Time Machine, I still have a couple of my old Zip disks hanging around with old freelance jobs and tax forms on them, according to the labels anyway. Don’t ask me why I haven’t tossed them, since the drive long ago bit the dust.
Palm Pilot. I was goaded into purchasing one of these by one of my old bosses, who swore by it. I honestly never got the handwriting recognition to work properly, so it was basically a hip paperweight. The nicest thing you can say about handhelds is that they pioneered some of the aspects incorporated into current smart phones, and so the trial and error was important to evolution.
Tethering. I’m no hacker, but I like to work offsite, so I needed to figure out how to get my crappy cellphone to serve as an internet connection for my laptop when I wasn’t at home. At first, Verizon made it easy (and free), but then progressively made it more difficult with each phone upgrade, and, eventually, impossible. And oh my stars and garters, was it slow. Amazing to think that my iPhone Personal Hotspot functions at darn near cable internet speeds as long as I’ve got a 4G signal.
Dial-up internet. Ah, yes, the days of screeching modems, Mindspring, AOL, and Prodigy, and “free” signup disks cluttering up the mail every week. Every time I get itchy about pages not loading instantly, I need to remember how far we’ve come. And I’m also reminded every time I get an email from my neighbor who still has a @prodigy.com web address. I’m pretty confident he has running water and electricity, but based on that addy, I’m not 100% sure.
In the comments: What are some of the tech tools you’ve used in your freelance business that seemed essential at the time, but now make you laugh…or cringe?
For another walk down memory lane, see last year’s anniversary post, “14 years of freelancing.”