Tech #23: On Computing
Back before having a computer in the home was a given... before it became an inalienable right, computer and software companies had to sell the idea.
It's a luxury modern day companies don't have to worry about. Sure, they have to lure families into buying newer and better models and updated software - but the hard sell of having to get families to cough up big bucks on something that was still largely a 'question mark' is over.
The target market was the Baby Boomers - specifically middle to high income Caucasian families. The Boomers were raised on the notion that lagging behind in technology was not an option (recall the Sputnik scare). Buying a computer wasn't something you could afford to wait around on and make a solid decision some day down the road. God forbid your precious children get left in the dust!
It's funny when you think about it. Looking at the Boomer's attitude toward technology over time is rather interesting. In the 1950s and 60s, they were absolutely indoctrinated with the Utopian vision of technology saving civilization - the Walt Disney and Jetsons worldview that technology is going to save everything.
Couple that with the incongruous image of the mushroom cloud, and you can see how this generation would have mixed feelings about technological advancement. Total immersion in a world where everyone was a cheerleader for The Miracles of Science.... while at the same time living under constant threat of nuclear annihilation.
Is it any wonder that, when the Boomers reached college age, there was a serious backlash against technology among the counter culture. This is not to say that they all became Luddites; just that the Jetsons had been replaced by a more pastoral ideal. Getting back to Nature became a philosophy, and for a moment in time the unquestioning lust for technological advancement was abated. But it would be short lived.
The early eighties continued where the early sixties left off. The Computer would be the answer to all our problems. It would just be a matter of time before it made all Boomer children geniuses, was planning their schedules, providing entertainment, and.... well, there was just no limit.
In Tech #21 post, I highlighted some advertisements which promote the computer as being a godsend. Humankind had finally reached its potential, all thanks to the wonders of personal computing.
Look at the Boomer dad above. Before his hairline had receded, he was probably a long-haired "no nukes" protester who smelled like pot. Now, he's a well paid respectable member of society fulfilling his parental obligation by bringing the computer into his living room. Aren't things just perfect?
Of course, I'm narrating a story of which we know the ending..... or at least we know partially how it turns out because the story is far from over. The kids take these computers from dear ol' dad and freaking run with it!
Fast forward thirty or so years. One billion Earthlings are on Facebook. Every First World citizen has a computer that fits in their pocket that makes these 80s PCs look like rusted antebellum farm equipment. Everything, and I mean everything, is controlled by computers - from our cars to our banks. If, for some reason (perhaps a satellite is hit by a cosmic pebble, or a grid is short-circuited by a squirrel) humanity would literally shut down.
Determining whether the computer revolution was intrinsically good or bad is, frankly, a waste of time. It's integrated itself into every facet of life, and it will only continue to increase in its ubiquity. All we can do is stand back and marvel at how far we've come, and scratch our heads in wonder at how far is left to go.
Thinking back to that first computer brought into the home.... how incredibly quaint it was. It was ridiculously expensive, so involved a lot of planning and discussion. And then, once it entered your living room or den, it was a question of "what now?" What exactly did you do with this thing now that you bought into the line that you simply had to own one?
You've got to remember, RAM, hard drive, CPU, etc. were brand new to our vocabulary. There wasn't even such a thing as a mouse back in 1983; or at least nobody owned one. You may as well have brought a piece of alien technology into our homes.
At first, you programmed it to spell out your name in Xs or beep out something faintly resembling "Mary had a Little Lamb". Was this what all the hubbub was about? You mean I just laid out two week salary so my computer screen can read: "Booting from floppy disk..... Selected device does not contain boot program"? This sucks!
But, with all that revenue coming in from these families rushing to buy the Commodore B, Sage II, TRS-80, VIC-2-, things got better in a hurry. By 1988, I had a color monitor, a dot matrix printer, and I was playing Dungeons & Dragons on my PC.
And now, decades later, here I still sit. Writing down my thoughts and memories on the subject, and having them read by a hundred thousand people. It's an interesting world we live in.