I have a couple of viewpoints to this topic; one is that yes, old computers had "something" special about them (everyone is probably not going to agree on 'what exactly' it was or is, but maybe we can agree there was an 'exciting feel' to them, caused by who knows).Are modern computers boring?
The other is..
..boring is what you make of it.
They say bored people are boring people - and this is probably true, because innovative, inventive and imaginative people can always change other people's boredom into fun or excitement somehow - it's a sort of psychological macgyverism, I suppose.
You can think of modern PCs as "pure power" or "malleable energy".
The possibilities of a computer has expanded to extent that no human being can fully utilize every day.
Let me tell you my story to better explain what I mean.
As an old Amigist, I got used to using a computer for 'everything it can do' (of course this is never 100% possible, but the main gist was to 'fully utilize' the power of the Amiga, as it was back then).
So I used it for as many things as I could; drawing pictures, making animations, sampling, creating music in various ways, emulating, e-mailing (hey, it was a great thing back then to do on an Amiga), 3D-rendering, BBSing, and even going so far as using Mac-versions of software like Photoshop and even many 256-color games that were never ported, or properly ported to the Amiga (Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, Alone in the Dark, Wolfenstein 3D and even Doom before Amiga ports started appearing).
Even on the Mac-side, which I almost considered as my second computer, I used as many interesting things as I could - for example, better web-browsers with fast 256-color capability (AGA could handle Mac-versions of so many software very fast, while Workbench-versions of similar software were sluggish in 256-color mode - maybe because of the ultrafast c2p routines people made for Shapeshifter)
So it was my everyday computer usage to get excited about the myriad plethoras of possibilities my dear, faithful Amiga offered me - I could watch demos or do some IRCing while replying to emails while listening to music while downloading something while.. well, you get the idea. Multitasking during a time where PCs couldn't do it properly, was heckuva exciting fun!
Before you could watch movies on a computer, before every computer had a CD-player you could use for musicplaying, before hard drives were big enough to store thousands of mp3 files.. there was still enormous fun to be had with a computer, and you could do so many things on it, it baffled the mind.
The thing I noticed during those times, was that if the same thing was happening on an Amiga and on a PC, the Amiga version created excitement, where the PC-version seemed boring and 'expected'. I mean, of course a PC can do it, it has so much power, who cares.
It's like someone making gouraud-shaded spaceship on a modern GPU. Who cares, of course it can do it.
But to see that same fractal pattern appear on my Amiga as I witnessed on my friend's PC (Fractint), just tickled me pink. It's like seeing a pixel move on the Amiga side was more exciting than seeing a fleet of beautifully-rendered realtime 3D spaceships zoom around on a PC screen.
Of course the VGA games were beautiful and exciting, and I was green with envy sometimes, but AGA has a bigger palette than MCGA, so when I first saw Lyapunovia's smoothly shaded patterns, I was awestruck. Too bad this kind of 'awestruckness' probably never happens again in the world of computers - they're so powerful now, that why anyone would care -what- they can do is beyond me.
The only way I could possibly still be 'awestruck' is if I see true HDR in real life - that is, (way) more than 256 brightnesses, on a -really- bright display device.
In any case, my point is, that in the past, I certainly lived the 'excitement from that era's computers' (I basically lived in C64 and Amiga most of certain years), and I experienced the "PC is boring" in many ways, levels and experiences even before I got my own PC.
I even had a real PPC Macintosh for awhile, and although it was a bit exciting at first, and could do many things even my most powerful Amiga couldn't (the newer rendering software, for example, and of course things like Quake II and III), I started getting fed up with how cumbersome it was to use.
While it was designed to be 'easy to use' for beginners, for people that want to do multiple things on a computer, it became a hassle - I had to get used to mouse-dragging files with only one button instead of using Total Commander and 4DOS commands (or better yet, Filer and CSH on the Amiga side).
I had to drag drivers back and forth depending on if I want to render or play the Quake games, and it was so cumbersome and annoying, and textures bugged anyway, and there were lots of weird errors.
That was the time when I visited my friend's house - and he had just got a new PC that he easily ran Quake II and III, while playing mp3 files simultaneously, without any problems or driver hassles! He showed me everything I was able to do on my Mac, and more - and he did it so effortlessly and seamlessly, and even showed me -way- better multitasking than my mac could handle..
..that was the time, when I realized that PC would be so much better choice for me than that mac. The PC could do anything and everything and multitask way better than I thought PCs ever could - almost on par with my Amiga! - and it would have more power and way more cheaply.
This made PC actually less boring than the Mac, because I could do more with it, and better, and the GPUs were way more functional and effective.
I did feel that the PC didn't give me the 'feelz' the Amiga gave me, but it was such a relief to finally be able to do what I want without having to curse 800 times every time I switch from one task to another.
So the PC was never really boring to me - from the start, I started emulating everything I could from Amiga to C64 so in a way, even when my Amiga broke down, I could still use the Amiga software to do graphics and music, and the C64 emulators to play and learn some creative software. I was even able to emulate the mac pretty well! It was never quite the same as it was on the Amiga, but Photoshop was the same to use on the PC, and the games I played on Shapeshifter existed for the PC, and with DOSBox and such, there was really no need to emulate mac anymore anyway.
The more powerful PCs became, the less I was able to do 'everything a computer can do' - but at least the possibilities and options expanded. Sometimes it just seems quite a waste to just browse the web while listening to music and doing nothing else on a powerful system that could probably run 100 tasks very nicely, all of which could be something interesting, from graphicsmaking to instrument creation to emulation of 20 different systems, etc.. they could run the modern games nicely, they could render lightning-quickly what used to take hours, and the number of channels for musicmaking is no limitation anymore.
When you move from a real machine to 'mere emulation', no matter how well the emulation is done, there's always something missing. I have, by comparisons and tests, realized that emulation can't ever be fully perfect. Even obvious things, like the Yamaha OPL chips sound ever-so-slightly different when playing on real hardware (which I didn't even think of back then).
Their waveform output also looks more lively with curves and waves, where emulated sound remains completely static and boxy all the way through.
Nowadays the possibilities for what computers can do have expanded to the level of 'pure energy', almost.
So that's how I view modern PCs; they're pure energy that you can bend towards any direction you want - they're creativity machines that you can just command to form something, and it happens.
When I learned programming on Commodore 64 BASIC language, I was delighted to be able to make little, animated sprite guys walk on screen and make things happen - creating small stories like that was a delight.
On the Amiga side, I lacked the programming language to do that - even on Blitzbasic, I couldn't figure out how to make sprites walk on screen.
On the modern PC side, however, combining the power of the modern CPU (and maybe GPU) and the vast memory, allows me to continue where I left off, and still make those little sprite stories - with real Amiga connected to a TFT monitor, I can even use true 160x240 modes (The old C64's 160x200 resolution needed a small upgrade for compatibility and convenience).
(It's fun to have all kinds of resolutions at your disposal, not just a fixed, modern TFT-monitor resolution, especially for creative purposes - but I use 320x240 mostly on the modern PC, because I can use that as full screen on my CRT television 'natively' (no interlace or interpolation) - so I just double the x-size of the graphics before using them in my programs - but for emulation, these resolutions come very handy)
I have retained enough of the C64's BASIC knowledge and learned the modern basic languages well enough that now I can do everything I always wanted to, but couldn't due to hardware or palette limitations, or lack of memory or CPU power, etc. For example, I can do alpha-fades with ease that my past self would envy with a passion.
It's fun to have a vertical programming monitor, by the way.
Nowadays I have multiple modern PCs for different purposes - one is mainly for modern games and other modern stuff, another is the 'creative system' with quirky old synthcards and such that won't work on a modern system, one is for [secret], another works as an oscilloscope for my OPL3-DOS-PC (which is for DOS games, demos and OPL3 music-, sound-effect and instrumentmaking of course).
I compose music and create sound effects on my real C64 or my other SID chips (each has a unique sound), and the real Yamaha OPL3, with self-made instruments - sometimes I like to add my 'mouth sounds' (doing 'khkhhkkkhh' doesn't sound quite the same as the SID's noise wave, but mixed with real Atari Pokey's noise wave, it sounds really unique) into the mix, especially for drums.
I can't beatbox, but I can create 'weird-sounding drums' with my mouth that sound pretty nice when combined with SID-drums and even some other noise waves.
So nowadays, I do lots of experiments, and the PCs play a crucial part in helping me tinker with them.
I have noticed, for example, that all noise waves sound a bit different. C16's and Atari 2600's noise waves are 'table-based' and not 'truly random' (hard to say what's "truly" random, but C64 and Atari 800 XL sound random enough to my ear), while VIC-20's noise wave doesn't even sound like normal 'noise wave' at all.
Atari's noise waves are deeper and more 'crunchy', while SID's filtered noise wave produces its own kind of aural euphoria.
When you use a PC for creativity purposes, and not just expect the PC to excite you automatically, and you also own other, more exciting older machines, you can make computing pretty much just as exciting as it ever was - it's all up to you, your imagination and your own projects you tinker at three o'clock in the morning, while everyone else is having nightmares about the office job they have to wake up soon for.
When you climb out of the paradigm of 'modern PCs are boring', you can actually realize, hey, if you can't beat them, you can join them and start utilizing this 'boring PC' for something unboring and create something exciting anyway.
I can take bits and pieces I have sampled from my real Amiga, C64, Ataris, VIC-20, etc. and combine them into sound effects or music on the 'boring PC', and it would be hard to do without a modern system.
I can use modern trackers, like Renoise for music and sound effect making, I can combine chords from OPL3 and drums from my mouth to SID song, creating sound effects from samples from real systems and my mouth and other real-life sounds (you wouldn't believe the kind of interesting sounds you can create with ordinary household items), there's pretty much no limitation to what I can create with this modern PC.
When you can watch a video while waiting for your 3D-animation to render, while painting something on a painting program, I have to say the modern PC is not nearly as boring as some people might think.
When you can watch an informative TV show while learning how to fly R/C stunt helicopters, .. I could never list all the interesting things you can do on modern PCs, but when _I_ use one of these machines, no matter how 'boring' they first appear, I claim the power to UNBORING them with my own, interesting imagination and curiosity of what the machine can do, and then I make the PC do it.
Once I was stranded in a cabin that had a really old PC, something like a Pentium 233MHz (can't really remember with detail).
It didn't take long for that PC to boast all kinds of emulators and music and pixeling software, and me having a blast completing some Neo-Geo games, like Metal Slug 2 on it!
That 'boring, grey box in the corner' became 'wildly fun entertainment center with bright colors, loud sounds, and immersive gameplay' and hours just flew by.
So, boring is what you make of it. If you just sit and watch some popular youtube crap between playing some grey and gloomy violent modern PC game, sure it's boring.
But if you program your real Amiga-created sprites to walk on the screen while real C64-created sound effects sound and real OPL3-created music plays on the background - well, boredom takes a hike and is never seen again.
I recommend, instead of lamenting how 'boring' modern computers are (and there is a point to it, I admit!), to see what you can do to unboring them - that in itself, even if unsuccessful, can become a bit of excitement! Trying to learn and figure out things can be great fun - and you can't be bored when having fun!
The power of UNBORING is in your own hands.