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Technology, TV

FTD High Five: The ZX Spectrum


Spectrum image: Benutzer:Doraguma

In Fry’s Techish Delight I wrote about the gadget list selected by Stephen Fry. As promised I said I would write about my top five gizmos. I imagine the expectation has been almost too much to bear…

My number five is the ZX Spectrum 48k. In Fry’s list it ranked at number 72, but for me it is much more important than that. The 48k was the computer that kindled my love of technology. It was the machine that taught a generation that gaming could be fun, but importantly it was also a creative device.

Everything about the machine was great. From the rubber keys which made that satisfying blip click each time you typed. It looked great (at least it did in 1982) It had a Starksy and Hutch-style paint job  and one of it’s exciting features was the ability to change the colour border on your TV. I know, AMAZE.

The other great thing about the machine was that it stimulated the imagination. The Spectrum was supported by games in a way that the much more businesslike BBC micro school computers weren’t. You could play platform games like manic miner, adventure games like the Hobbit and Minder. You could be a Football Manager or player with sensible soccer.  What was not to love.

I also remember my friend using his simple dial-up modem to ‘hack into’ the flight arrival computer  – by that I mean he could display flight arrivals on his TV screen. We felt like Matthew Broderick from War Games, in reality we’d just re-invented Teletext.

We created a library database so our friends could share books – mainly Clive Cussler’s novels as I recall. We created a football database for Norwich goalscorers. We basically made lists.

It was also one of the first computers to be supported by the media. Magazines would provide gaming tips and cheats and simple programmes to write. It taught you a skill (one I sadly then neglected) and one which you could experiment with.

You would spend hours (I mean hours) typing in code to create really simple games or pictures. Perhaps life was simpler then…

However we’re now seeing the emergence of the focus on these practical skills. Open Hardware, the Maker movement and the new £15 computer are extensions of what the Spectrum allowed a group of ten and 11-year olds to do 30 years-ago.

I loved the Spectrum. Despite the fact I then got hold of the ‘massively’ powerful Commodore 64, the Spectrum was the start of a life-long love affair with all things tech.

Coming next: the iPod


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