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Mar 20, 2018

Just for fun,

The history of technology - a focus on the computer

Never before have we seen such a rapid shift in advances as we have with the digital and technological era. Technology and innovation are being developed at such a fast pace that what was cutting edge a few years ago, ends up collecting dust, stashed in a cupboard somewhere, having been replaced for the latest tech. In fact, our relationship with technology means that we see these products as a commodity, and in this materialistic world we will spend huge sums or money to ensure our fingers are always on the pulse of what’s new and upcoming. You only have to look around you to see how technology has shifted. Aside from the constant connectivity that’s gained from smartphone tech, we now have the tech around us for complete automation, with products such as Google Home Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Nest and Sonos.   For anyone that wants a slightly more immersive experience, there’s VR and AR that can easily tick that box.

It hasn’t always been like this though, looking back to the turn of the 1900’s and throughout the last century technology both in the workplace and in our home has taken on new forms and new roles. Computer technology of the early 40’s and 50’s were contraptions that literally filled a room and would normally serve one purpose, such as to complete complex mathematical equations at the drop of a hat. You could argue that the enigma machine and ‘Colossus’, both steeped in British war history, were some of the first computing devices, with the enigma famous for cracking the German’s encrypted messages, and ‘Colossus’ the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer was also responsible for deciphering coded messages from the enemy. Whichever way you look at it, this period of time was responsible for bringing computer technology into the limelight and to kick start the mindset where computers could be used to fix a specific problem. 

By the 1960’s computers were starting to shape, but by no means mainstream. Early examples of these computers were machines like the PDP-1, still sizable machines that took up space, with a typewriter looking keyboard these machines only required one operator, which later become standard for computers. By the late 60’s, Teletype introduced their ASR-33. At a fraction of the cost of a computer the Teletype was a popular and inexpensive choice throughout the 60’s and 70’s and one of the first generation of minicomputers. 

The 1970’s saw the introduction of the HP-35 handheld calculator, the first hand held calculator of its kind that would later rule the office with mainstream usage through the likes of Casio. The 1970’s were also pivotal for Apple, with the launch of Apple-1 aimed at the hobbyist and Apple II – the first of computers as we know them with Millions of Apple II’s being sold between 1977 and 1993.

Although in the 1980’s you were still just as likely to see a typewriter in the workplace as you were a computer, with some offices having one for people to share. It’s fair to say the computer of choice in the 80’s was the Commodore 64. In fact, over 22 million units were sold until the early 90’s and it is now recognised in the Guinness Book of World Records as the greatest selling single computer of all time. Not to be outdone by the Commodore 64, Apple launches the very first Macintosh in 1984, the first successful mouse-driven computer and the first introduction to MacPaint and IBM introduce the first ‘Personal Computer’ (PC), which revolutionised business computing with widespread adoption, the PC was the blue print for many of the computers we still see today. 

The early 90’s were important years in the development and introduction to ‘portable’ and ‘on-the-go’ computer machines and the first example of a laptop of this type was the Macintosh portable. Although weighing in at sixteen pounds, they were less portable than expected and sales were weak. A few years later though Apple released the PowerBook series, three variations of the same technology, complete with built-in trackball and internal floppy drive, all of which has shaped laptop designs as a whole. The end of the 90’s the laptop market was joined by Sony’s VAIO, a revolutionary laptop design and spec of its time. 

The turn of the century was dominated by Apple. Having been close to bankruptcy in the mid 90’s, their popularity increased throughout the 00’s to see the adoption of iMac’s, the Apple G5, the first MacBook Air and the first ever iPhone – which also meant our first exposure to apps (applications). Then in more recent years Apple have released the iPad and Apple Watch, and we are propelled very quickly into a word of wearable technology, computers that are small enough to fit into our back pocket (the smartphone) and homes that literally have a mind of their own through self-learning automation. 

If this is what can be achieved in only a few centuries, it begs the question, what do we have in store for the next 50 years and how will technology develop beyond the boundaries of what we know as tangible possibilities to create new and engaging experiences, to solve complex problems and to continue to assist us in our pursuit of pure convenience?

It’s going to be an exciting time for technology, that’s for sure.