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1995 video shows the struggle was real for first-time PC users

In this “CBS Evening News” report from May 22, 1995, a first-time personal computer user was featured to underscore the challenges in adopting the new technology
In this “CBS Evening News” report from Ma... 03:05

The year was 1995. Montell Jordan's "This is How We Do It" was number one on the charts. And personal computers were in. But as we found out from this nearly 20-year-old "CBS Evening News" report, many first time PC users had no idea how to do anything.

"For many newcomers PC stands for Pain and Confusion," said Dan Rather, as he introduced CBS News correspondent Reed Galin's story.

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Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather introducing 1995 piece on personal computers. CBS News

In some cases that silly acronym still holds true today - as anyone who's seen the blue screen of death or the spinning hourglass that means your computer has hung up.

But the plight of neophyte computer users two decades ago was far more severe.

Meet Jamie Gold, the star of the 1995 story.

"Jamie Gold is about to buy her first computer," Galin said. "She hardly knows where to start."

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Jamie Gold, a first-time PC user, holding installation floppy disks in her hand CBS News

What follows - at Gold's expense - is a series of confused comments that are as painful for those who remember 1995 and as they are funny for those of who were born with a computer in hand.

"How do you turn this one on?... Installation disk number one? ... I don't know which the interface cable is! ... What the hell is a power module? ... I have no idea what this disk drive is, no idea."

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Gold's frustration overcomes her as she struggles to use her new personal computer CBS News

Struggles aside, Gold was the kind of customer that was turning the industry upside down, reported Galin. In 1995, home PC sales were now exceeding business sales -- up 25 percent from 1994 and still accelerating.

Gold spent $2,832 buying into the sales pitch that computers were now easy to use. One commercial stated: "This is the world's easiest personal computer." That's a departure from today's ads that often feature pretty images and emphasize style over ease of use.

But in the 90s, if you thought a PC was just another household appliance - to borrow from the parlance of the decade - you had better check yourself before you wreck yourself.

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Jamie Gold, still struggling, with an edition of "PC Computing: Notebook Hell" by her side. CBS News

You see, Gold was the rule, not the exception. For years phone and help centers were used by technically inclined users. But the 80 percent of IBM's calls in the mid-90s came from so-called "newbies," reported Galin.

"When I start there are no beeps or anything," said one caller, asking about who knows what.

At computer maker Digital Equipment, calls doubled in six months. Many callers expressed dismay that cyberspace seemed more like the twilight zone.

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A worker answers calls at a computer help center in 1995 CBS News

You may be wondering: What was the fuss all about? Galin explained it had something to do with the fear of missing out.

"It seems that a lot of new buyers are motivated by the uneasy feeling that they are falling behind in the information age," said Galin. "But their anxiety only deepens if the computer proves more difficult to get started on than they expected. In one survey half of new users said they were ready to throw their computers out the window out of sheer frustration."

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Reed Galin CBS News

With that type of anxiety it's no wonder "Computers for Dummies" sold 18 million copies.

And interestingly enough, at software giant Microsoft Corporation, users were tested as lab rats in a "Usability Lab." It was a sort of software maze used by an industry whose focus was shifting from making computers more powerful to making them easier to use.

"The biggest user problem we see right now is ease of use, particularly for the home or beginner user," said Mike Maples of Microsoft.

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Microsoft's "Usability Lab" where software was tested for usability CBS News

Experts in 1995 predicted that half of American households would have computers by 1998. They were close - that milestone wasn't reached until 2000.

Jamie Gold swore she'd have crossed the great divide by 1998. We hope so. Jamie, if you see this story, or if anyone knows Jamie, let us know by email, we'd love to catch up.

And that's the way it was on Friday, May 22, 1995.

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