Why Own a Computer?

My first computer was an IBM 386 copy in around 1987. I didn’t really know what to do with it, I just knew you “should have one” and I was late in getting one. But then I got a dot matrix printer and I started writing reports, minutes and speeches (!) for my optometric political career, so I found a use for them! It was only when I could see MY words in print that I really got interested!
They looked something like this:
IBM PC dot matrix printer
In time I got fancier and by the time the kids arrived I had this:

I can do this!

I was unaware of the history that led up to my PC. Now I read this:

By 1970, the famous electronics and computer hobbyists club in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Homebrew Computer Club was founded, and Apple Computer was formed. Since computers could actually do very little, what reason did the founders of Apple give to people for buying its products? Well . . . so “that you and your family increase familiarity with the computer itself”!

The center of attention in Homebrew meetings during the middle years of the 1970s was the MITS Altair 8800, first released in 1975 and available by mail order from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Generally regarded as the first personal computer (PC), the Altair is completely unrecognizable as a usable machine today. In addition to its internal electronics, the entire system consisted of a case and a series of toggle switches and light bulbs on the front panel — no keyboard, no screen, no disk drive. Programs had to be entered as individual binary numbers by flipping the switches on the front; the only evidence that the program had done its job was a change in which bulbs were lit.

“Personal computing would have remained a hobbyist’s passion were it not for the gradual infusion of computer-liberation culture. As a group, Homebrewers had a generally anti-establishment streak. Steve Wozniak, one half of the founding duo of Apple Computer, initially became widely known within Homebrew as a maker of ‘blue boxes’ — small electronic devices that emitted push-button telephone tones and permitted making free phone calls.

Jobs and Wozniak marketed a computer kit to rival the Altair. They marketed the kit under the name Apple Computer in 1976.
“After studying the European-styled toasters and mixers in the kitchen department at Macy’s in San Francisco, Jobs decided that he wanted a smooth, curved, plastic case for the Apple II. The result was an elegant and inviting design that would thereafter become the signature look of Apple computers.

The brochure read, ‘The home computer that’s ready to work, play and grow with you’ and promised, ‘You don’t even need to know a RAM from a ROM to use and enjoy Apple II …. You can begin running your Apple II the first evening, entering your own instructions and watching them work, even if you’ve had no previous computer experience.’

But why own one? You could, according to the ad, use it to help your children do schoolwork, organize household finances or recipes, or ‘chart your biorhythms.’ But the ad proclaimed that ‘the biggest benefit — no matter how you use Apple II — is that you and your family increase familiarity with the computer itself.’ The computer-enhanced future was here, and you needed to be part of it.

(From America in the ’70s edited by Beth Bailey & David Farber)



I remember the first time I got a 486 PC – a huge advance on the 386. It went from less than 10 million instructions per second to over 40 million instructions per second. Wow! I don’t remember giving it so many instructions, but hey! Go with the flow here!

And I remember backing up: Floppy disk after 3.5inch floppy disk inserted. Wait. Insert next floppy disk. Wait . . .

Then in 1993 came my first cellphone:

Panasonic cellphone.jpg

Here’s the humbling part: Remember how we said “No need for a home computer” and “I don’t need a cellphone”? (Yes we did). Now think about virtual reality, self-driving cars and the internet of things and – this time – be humble. They’re coming ready or not, so get your shit together.

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