Meet the Marcoux family. There’s George, Elroy, Judy, Jane …
Whoops. Those were “The Jetsons.” But it’s an easy mistake to make. Now that the computer revolution is won, the first generation of hackers has grown up.
They’ve gotten jobs. They’ve had children.
And their kids are taking to keyboards and mice like Bill Gates to a bank statement. Computers aren’t gee-whiz gadgets anymore - they’re a part of everyday life.
So if that’s the case, the Marcouxes are living large. The north Spokane family has three turbo-charged Pentium computers networked in their home. Both parents work in computer-related jobs. All of the family’s six children practically run on batteries - they’ve been computer literate before they were even, well, literate.
“They look at a computer like a microwave or a blender,” Dan Marcoux says of his and Lisa Marcoux’s children. “They’ve come to rely on them. They always know there’ll be a computer around. If they didn’t have one, I think they’d be lost.”
The 5-year-old helps mom out at work. The 10-year-old bails teachers out of digital dilemmas. The 13- and 16-year-olds do their banking on-line. Dad and the kids even built their own computers.
Come evening, the Marcoux house seems pretty typical. The place shrieks with trebly, juvenile racket. It’s enough to drive North Central sophomore Tiffany Felton upstairs and in front of one of the family’s 17-inch computer screens.
Lisa’s daughter is performing that traditional teenage ritual: hogging the phone line. Only instead of chatting via voice, she’s using the Internet. The house has two phone lines, soon to be three.
Tiffany is addicted to ICQ (“I Seek You”)- software that keeps track of friends who also have the program and lets her know when they’re online.
She chats with folks from all over the planet - sans long-distance fee.
“Uh-oh!” pipes the Pentium’s speakers. A message pops up, from a boy.
“He lives in Cusick,” Tiffany says. Her fingers are a-clatter. The “Uh-ohs” keep sounding. Tiffany keeps typing.
“And this is the guy I went to homecoming with. He’s in my class.”
A couple are half a world away. There’s a boy in Venezuela; he was an exchange student here. Ditto with the boy from Spain.
When Tiffany does use that archaic voice phone, she looks up friends’ numbers in a database file.
The boys in the family are more into computer games. Sterling Felton and Corey Marcoux are glued to “Creatures” - a game where players play surrogate parent to critters that look a little like two-legged hamsters.
Surrounded by tacked-up shrines to Porsche and Michael Jordan, the 13- and 11-year-olds try to figure out what’s best for the beasties.
“You name ‘em,” says Sterling. “This one’s George. And Jasmine’s behind him, I think. You can tickle ‘em and they’ll laugh. And you poke ‘em and they say, ‘Ow.”’
Sterling killed off a half-dozen not long ago - they got sick. You have to keep the Creatures from harm’s way, usually in the form of a green baddie who tries to give them monster measles.
Now that’s all fun. But the family uses PCs for real-life, too.
For a group project, Tiffany made a graphic report using Microsoft Powerpoint. The resulting rant against sweatshops fades and wipes in-and-out like an infographic from CNN.
“We got all the points possible,” she says.
Sterling used the Internet to research Austria. Everybody uses a CD-ROM encyclopedia for research. Dennielle, 8, loves art programs. Heather, 10, surfs the Web for all the dog trivia she can dig up.
“Heather wants to be a dog,” Lisa says. The other kids burst out laughing. The little girl grins. She wants to be a veterinarian, really.
Dan works as a software engineer at Olivetti and as a technician for Acme Computer. Lisa works at Garfield Elementary, keeping the computer lab running. Their youngest girl, Dianna, 5, helps her.
Word gets around about the other kids, too: “Other teachers will have Heather called out of class to help solve their problems,” Lisa says. “Funny things. One teacher called her because she didn’t know what to do because it said, ‘it’s now safe to turn off your computer.”’ Heather told her to shut it off.
“She is so much farther ahead than probably the average kid who hasn’t had computer experience at home,” says her teacher, Sam Stachofsky. “Often, she helps me teach.”
Heather even made him a UW Huskies screen saver. He went to WSU. She knows this.
Creating cyber-conscious kids isn’t that hard, the Marcouxes say. It’s just a matter of sitting a 3-year-old at the terminal, walking away and letting her re-format your hard drive.
Really, it’s not that bad. “Just make sure you have backups,” Dan warns.
The kids learn by doing - Dan and Lisa never really set out to teach them a particular program. They just pick it up by playing.
“Like with Dianna, we sit down with her, she sits on our lap, and plays with the ‘Living Books,”’ he says, referring to Broderbund’s software version of training wheels.
“It’s a really, really good beginning for learning how to read and an introduction to computers. You use a mouse, click on a tree and the tree does something, click on a bird …” In no time, Dianna was blowing away her sister at “Doom.”
These days, everyone is warming up to the glow of a monitor. And not just kids.
“Seventy-five percent of our clientele do know more than what the average person knew 10 years ago,” says Sherrie Winchester, a training manager at New Horizons Computer Learning Center. Older folks are being bugged by their kids to keep in touch via e-mail. Others just want to learn for themselves.
But while learning to use computers has become just plain practical, the technician in Dan wanted the kids to go one better.
“We built their computers,” he says proudly. “I actually told them what do do, and they did most of the work.”
They assembled the computers part-by-part, card-by-card. In about four hours a PC was born.
“It’s better than just giving it to them,” Dan says. “That was part of the present, y’know, we got to build it together.”
Before their machines multiplied, there were bottlenecks. And rules.
“They could work on the computer for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, a half hour,” says Dan. “If they wanted to play a game, they had to do 10 minutes of playing with the encyclopedia. Ten minutes of education before 20 minutes of a game.”
The founding of this binary Brady Bunch goes back to the age when hard copy meant a stone tablet - the ‘80s. Dan was hooked on his Atari 2600, “‘Space Invaders’ and stuff,” he remembers. His cousin had a new computer, and Dan wanted one, too. He bought a Timex-Sinclair 1000, a paperback-sized PC with 2k of memory. Dan souped it up to a flexing 16k. He took up programming.
“I just thought it was cool you could make these things to what you want them to do. And they do them.”
He graduated to a Commodore 64. Then an Atari 520ST, an early point-and-click computer.
Lisa started out when her father gave her his old Atari 800. Then she and her then-husband bought and ran a bulletin board system on a Texas Instruments machine.
They met their friends via modem - but not over the Net. It was all local BBS systems or CompuServe back then. Computer hobbyists, a smaller crowd than today, formed local clubs and had get-togethers. Everyone with a modem knew everyone else.
Lisa and Dan merged files and families in the ‘90s, about the same time they decided to give in and go Microsoft.
“When they got a brain!” one of the kids yelps, unable to grasp a world not ruled by Big Bill.
Now, it’s digital domestic bliss. Until someone calls Tiffany a nerd.
“I’m not a computer nerd!” she shouts.
Sterling: “Yes you are!”
“You’re an Internet nerd!” taunts another kid.
“You probably spend more time on the computer than anybody else,” Dan says, grinning.
“Shuddup!” Tiffany tells them all. “I’m NOT a computer nerd. I just talk to my friends.”
These days, she’s probably right.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON THE WEB The Marcoux family Web site is www.arias.net/danm/. If you use Netscape, click on the faces - they turn to taffy like something from a hall of mirrors. “They gooed it,” says Sterling. “I don’t like it,” says Tiffany. See for yourself.