When I was young, very young, computers took up whole rooms and were operated by men, and a few women, in lab coats with clip boards, glasses, and who had serious looks on their faces. Well, in the movies anyway. In movies, the men generally wore suits and ties, the women in dresses no matter what kind of job they had. Movie life and real life didn't mesh well in my head. My father never wore a suit, at work or anywhere else. Neither did anyone else's father that I knew except for Norman's, the nerdy kid down the street. But his father was a lawyer so it was to be expected. In movies, men were mostly dressed in suits (except for cowboys and convicts), even bad guys like bank robbers. But I digress, this isn't about men in suits.
It's about computers.
Some say the first computers were mechanical clocks. After all, they computed time. But that really isn't the definition of "computer". A computer, in simple terms, is something that accepts data, processes it, and displays the results.
I just found out that a man in Germany, Konrad Zuse, built the first electrical binary programmable computer (the Z1) in his parents' living room between 1936 and 1938 (Wikipedia says 1941 but referred to the Z3).
I suppose there was room because his parents didn't have a stereo and TV to take up a lot of space. Just that huge radio that they could listen to Herr Hitler on.
For years,people got along without computers in their businesses and homes. My father certainly did. He owned a business and the closest thing to a computer in that was a manual adding machine; punch in the numbers, and pull the lever, repeat as necessary. I think it only had 4 types of calculations and ran to two whole decimal places.
The military was the main driver behind the computer. It needed to calculate trajectories, quickly and accurately. This helps you destroy the enemy more efficiently while lowering the possibility of of destroying your own men and machines. World War II was the impetus behind the invention of Eniac, the first American electronic computer of note. However, the war was over by the time it was built. The Eniac is younger than I am.
The Eniac was a mass of electro-mechanical devices and electron tubes. It wasn't until the transistor was developed that the computer could truly start to evolve. The transistor meant miniaturization and less heat generation.
In 1981, I bought my first computer, an Osborne 1. Relatively few people owned computers at the time. But that is about the time that people started thinking about them. Large businesses had been using what were called "small computers" which took up the space of maybe three or four refridgerators, sometimes more. Large corporations could afford mainframe computers which took up whole rooms. Small businesses were getting into what would later be called "personal computers", mostly made by Radio Shack and companies that are now long gone.
By the time I bought that Osborne, Apple had stores, Radio Shack was big, and people had started buying personal computers for entertainment rather than just business needs.
Fast forward to today and it's a surprise when I hear someone say "I don't own a computer." They are everywhere. And they are attached to the internet.
The newest phones, like the I-Phone, are little computers which can tap into the internet and play online games. They are the logical evolution of those PDAs of a few years ago that only kept your address book and an appointment calendar.
We are a tapped in, connected, digital species. What next? Implants that we can use to make calls and access the internet?
A Night Unremembered
7 years ago