There and Back (Again): Homebrew Computer Club at 38

Chuck Colby with Homebrew Computer Club wares (Credit: Amy Desiree Photography

The buffet occupies two tables; the rest are covered with computer paraphernalia. In many ways, it feels like another tech meetup. Well-rehearsed elevator pitches are offered: "It's like Minecraft and The Sims smashed together and put on the web." One young programmer was attracted to the meeting because, "It's in the Bay Area, it's on Kickstarter, so why the fuck not?"

But this is the 38th Anniversary Reunion of the Homebrew Computer Club, the group that "launched the personal computing revolution," or so the story goes. Temporal and ideological anomalies abound. The hardware is all vintage, and while some participants are there in search of networking opportunities, others are still out to change the world, to put technological tools into the hands of the people. A veteran whips out his $90 paper tape reader, insisting no one can understand Homebrew unless they’ve hacked one. An Altair 8800 that famously produced music at an original meeting is here for an encore—no drastic restoration necessary, the thing just works. At serial inventor Chuck Colby's table, there's a stack of printouts which read:

Wozniak, who is in attendance, is the unwilling magnet for 90% of the actual recognition.

The sense of rewards unevenly divided among collaborators continues when we take our seats for the "remarks" portion of the evening (which includes an open mic session, a Homebrew tradition). Technology pioneer Ted Nelson says, "Computing has always been personal, in that the people involved took it personally." The audience laughs. We get that the term "computing" no longer refers to an open exchange of ideas about commercially available microprocessors, but to a multi-billion dollar industry, and a highly competitive one at that.



Wealth disparity as it relates to computer technology is as sore an issue today as it was 30 years ago. The same day as the reunion, KQED aired a discussion that addressed "techie hipsterism" and gentrification in West Oakland. Many of these kids flocking to the Bay will feel forgotten in 38 years, even though they were at that meetup—you know, the one where those guys launched the next big thing? I hear that group's getting together again for a reunion.