The first portable computer my parents bought, brand-new practically one of the first ones off the assembly line, an Osborne I, when I was 21 or 22:
It weighed 23.5 pounds. The screen was five inches wide, green on white letters and ASCII graphics. It came with SuperCalc (a spreadsheet program) and WordStar (a word processing program), plus a version or two of BASIC so you could do programming if need be. It had two 5-1/2 inch floppy drives, one which would hold the program, the other of which would hold your documents.
We thought it was amazing, though I do remember absolutely hating to carry the damned thing any further than, say, from one room to the next.
When Mom bought the Osborne Executive a few years later, she gave me the old machine, and I used it for a while while I did free-lance typing from home.
The kind of “portable computer” I want to buy now:
It’s about the size of a sheet of paper. It weighs 1.33 pounds. With it, you can access the world. And, dayum, it’s pretty, not like the ugly, utilitarian clunkiness of the Osborne.
What a difference thirty years makes.
What a difference one person makes.
A few years after the Osborne I/II showed up in our house, the magazine I worked for bought computers for all the editors. I—the in-house computer whiz–was the one who discovered that CP/M, the operating system we used, had a glitch where you could accidentally save your article with no file name, but that it showed up in the directory, so you could retrieve it and save it with a new name. Many a young editor who had their articles disappear after many hours of working on them paid for lunches for me for saving their files.
I vividly remember the day that the magazine bought a hard drive—with all of 10MB of space. Since I had already demonstrated my ease with computers, it was assigned to me. I remember all my buddies gathering around to “Oooh!” and “Ahhh!” at it. It was about 10 inches tall, 10 inches deep, five or six inches across. They were astonished at how many articles we could store on it.
The editor-in-chief’s secretary bragged about buying a real IBM PC at home.
At the same time, one of my best friends got an Apple II. Thereafter, every time I talked to her, when she wasn’t lamenting the latest married man in her life or other equally DRAMATIC situations she maneuvered herself into, she was talking up Apple products.
And nowadays, due to Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, and—in another corner, Bill Gates—and their ferocious technical and marketing genius, our entire worlds are different.
We carry iPods with music. We carry smart phones. We buy almost anything via the Internet. Grandparents get pictures of grandkids via email or Facebook. I shopped for our first house on the Internet in 1998, back when Realtor.com was new; nowadays, internet service is practically considered an everyday, necessary utility for folks who aren’t computer whizzes.
The world has changed so very much in that way.
My grandmother lived through a transition from horse-drawn carriages to jet airplanes and landing on the moon. I, and my age cohorts, have lived through a similar startling transition, from carbon paper and typewriters to streaming media and phones that answer spoken questions.
Steve Jobs died today. It was his vision, his driving need for clean lines, ease of use, and fusing technology with the personal, that has led us into this world of “the Revolution will be texted!”, sexting, online banking, music wherever we go. He died after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 56. He and Wozniak started Apple in 1976, thirty-five years ago.
Where will we be in another thirty-five years?
RIP Steve Jobs.
Some good blog posts on the subject:
John Scalzi, “Steve Jobs and Me”
Chez Pazienza (Deus Ex Malcontent), “iSad”