Home Computing Machines: Will They Succeed?


(Flickr/Marcin Wichary)

As you debate whether to toss your year-old phone and get yourself a snappy new iPhone (look at that screen!) or a Droid X (a 1-gigahertz processor!), take a moment to think about how far we've come. In that spirit, take a moment to read this awesome article from 1982 in The Atlantic, written by James Fallows. Always an early adopter, Fallows got himself one of those new-fangled word-processing devices for a mere $4,000. After replacing a missing fuse (they had fuses?), he gets the thing up and running, and finds his writing transformed:

When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen. For six months, I found it awkward to compose first drafts on the computer. Now I can hardly do it any other way. It is faster to type this way than with a normal typewriter, because you don't need to stop at the end of the line for a carriage return (the computer automatically "wraps" the words onto the next line when you reach the right-hand margin), and you never come to the end of the page, because the material on the screen keeps sliding up to make room for each new line. It is also more satisfying to the soul, because each maimed and misconceived passage can be made to vanish instantly, by the word or by the paragraph, leaving a pristine green field on which to make the next attempt.

It's a reminder that even the parts of the information revolution that today seem utterly mundane were, not that long ago, a revelation. Fallows also put in a plug for the machine pictured above, the Osborne 1, a precursor to the laptop: "In a perfect world, everyone who had a home computer would also have an Osborne to travel with. According to dealers, Osbornes are selling so fast that many people must have decided that it makes sense not just as their second computer but as their first." And why not -- the thing only weighed 23.5 pounds!

-- Paul Waldman

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