It was the late 1970s and the age of home computers had just begun. Soon, computers would run entire households: turning on lights, doing your taxes, balancing your checkbook and even preparing your meals. They would do every single menial task using a chip that was the same size as the one that existed in pocket calculators, but with the power of the 1949 ENIAC computer, which was the size of a city block. The home computer would completely take control of our lives, and we’d be living the lives as seen on the cartoon “The Jetsons.”
Well, they were pretty close.
In 1977 the Apple II home computer launched and it rang alarms declaring the future had arrived. The New York Times picked this up as an opportunity to explore the realm of home computers. In their coverage, they sought to find a purpose, a reason for owning a home computer. The Apple II cost $1,300 when it first came out, and was a lot of money for a regular consumer to invest in. There simply had to be a reason to buy this computer. They interviewed other computer makers, who all boasted the fact that their computers were going to make people’s lives easier, especially businesses. There was no real reason why the average household should have this computer, but the possibility for them to have it lingered.
The Los Angeles Times took a different approach. They seemed excited about the future of technology. The story that particularly struck me started out by outlining an outlandish detail of a computerized lifestyle, where the computer did everything you could possibly think of. It recognized that computers to many were something belonging to the elite, but pointed to a future where everyone had one. They also recognized people’s fear in the use of computers. They noted that children would most likely be the ones who fully grasp technology, which struck me because often adults will say that today; that their kids know how to use computers better than they do, despite it not being an integral part of their lives.
These stories are easily compared to contemporary stories. Technology moves so fast that coverage is very much accelerated as well, but always look ahead. Tech stories often involve new technologies and how they are supposed to changed people’s lives, or how they can be applied with other technologies. For instance, the advent of web applications has brought a whole new dialogue into the tech community: is cloud-computing, that is, applications running on servers on the Internet and accessing the data through a web browser (ex. Google Docs), relevant? Many speculate its future and its possible uses, while others disagree and say its useless, much like the newspapers did back in the 1970s when discussing home computers.
It is interesting to see how confused and shocked people were of home computers nearly 30 years ago when we think about how we use them today, and how important they are in our daily lives. Back then, they didn’t know what to do with them, and now we don’t know what to do without them.
• Cook, Loiuse. "Your Own Computer May Soon Combat Bill Gremlins." Los Angeles Times 24 Oct. 1977: D12.
• Dembart, Lee. "Computer Show's Message: 'Be the First on Your Block'" New York Times 26 Aug. 1977: 10.