Beneath the dark glass of the monitor glowed the faintest hint of green light. In the top left corner was a little green square. It blinked on and off like a pulsating heartbeat. The high-pitched whine of the cathode could be felt.

About a dozen pupils stared silently into the darkness of their own monitor, as if entering a trance. A voice from behind broke the spell: “This is called the ‘cursor’.”

The room was long and narrow, the walls lined with computers. Everyone sat with their backs to each other; together yet alone. The only human interaction was through an occasional brush against the chair-back as the teacher slowly paced the room.

And thus we were introduced to the personal computer — sitting in front of us at almost half our size, returning its own perplexed and curious gaze.

It was probably an Apple IIe. The green phosphor screen, the raised keyboard, the giant floppy disk drives. I vividly remember the sound it made while reading the disc. It was the early 1990’s and I was about 10 years old. That particular model was nearing its end of life. But it would mark a beginning for mine.

Sometimes our trip to the computer lab involved playing a game as a small group. In retrospect, it was a team-building experience. We weighed the risks and rewards. We made decisions collectively. We shared successes and failures. And if it was Oregon Trail, we always failed.

One day our teacher presented us with an ambitious class project. We were to create our own book. Each student would come up with a short story and illustrate it themself. We experienced the entire publishing process: writing, editing and layout. When everyone’s story was finished, we waited for the books to be bound. On release day, everyone was presented their own copy and read their story in front of the class. What a sense of accomplishment!

Creative collaboration. It started in that little computer lab. It continues with every project I take on.

—Mark Chambers

Mark David Chambers