My Best Tech Gift Ever: Prodigy

In the first installment of a weeklong series featuring the reminiscences of CNET writers and editors, Crave's Eric Mack recalls a pivotal 1980s present from Mom.

Eric Mack spent many hours of his youth exploring the world via Prodigy. VintageComputing.com
Editor's note: Today we kick off a weeklong series called "My Best Tech Gift Ever." Every day this week, a different CNET writer or editor will recall a memorable tech or geek-centric present that left a mark. We start the fun with Crave contributor Eric Mack. Look for another installment tomorrow at 8 a.m. PT.

Today I help my mother find her way around Skype and Facebook, so it is to her enormous credit that she was able to see the potential all the way back in the late '80s in something called Prodigy.

If you're under 30, you almost certainly have no idea what this product was, and I don't think my mother did either at the time. Yet it showed up in a box one Christmas in suburban Denver and changed my life.

Prodigy was a pioneering online service that came after CompuServe but before America Online. At the time it offered a new, more graphical user interface with more mainstream content from partners like Zagat and CBS that made the tiny bulletin board systems I'd been dialing into seem bush league. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

What's the best tech gift you ever got? Send your stories and photos to crave at cnet dot com (subject line: Best Tech Gift) for possible inclusion in an upcoming feature.

I can remember coming home from elementary school and exploring Prodigy's services for hours, especially the various message boards with a far wider variety of people than Nyx, the dial-in system at the University of Denver (which was a pioneer in its own right). The potential for connecting with all sorts of people, places, and information exploded my brain. It was like being given a superpower that most other people couldn't yet comprehend.

We didn't subscribe to Prodigy for long. I soon urged my parents to "upgrade" to America Online. I still remember receiving the letter from Steve Case congratulating me on being among the first 200,000 AOL users back in 1992. That number would eventually reach 27 million.

Thus began my life as an early adopter, filled with a constant sense of awe at the possibilities ahead, and the nearly-as-frequent pain that comes when that potential is inevitably scuttled for stupid business reasons (see Amiga and Palm, just for starters).

But that pain is more than worth the gain, and I have Prodigy to thank for my initial awakening to the fact that the world is smaller than we think and that we've only just begun to understand it and one other. On a more practical note, it also helped me snag some smokin' deals on Nintendo games back in the day.

Thanks again, Mom.

Find a memorable gift for the people in your life by visiting CNET's 2012 Holiday Gift Guide.

 

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