A Picture on the Wall
March 30, 2017
During a moment of quiet reflection on a recent visit to our North Independence Branch, I looked around an empty computer lab and saw a picture on the wall that I hadn’t noticed before. It was an old photo of someone using a desktop computer from the 1970s. My first thought was how underpowered and hard to use it must have been, but it occurred to me that the computer in the picture was probably a marvel of modern engineering back then and the person using it must have been in absolute awe of the technology. What used to take up a whole room had been condensed into something that could be placed on your desk.
Inspired by that old picture, I did a little more research and discovered that the first commercially produced computer in the United States was the UNIVAC-1, and it was purchased by the Census Bureau as a revolutionary new way to process data. Then I started thinking about the laptop I was using, and it made me wonder when the first portable computers were introduced. I found this great ad from 1981 showing a man carrying one of the earliest examples of a mobile computing device, and my first instinct was again to think of how underpowered and difficult to use it must have been—the same response many of us have when we look at technology of years past.
When we live in a world where our phones are basically supercomputers, where billionaires play around in robot suits, and where one of the world’s most revolutionary thinkers tells us that we must merge with machines if we want to stay relevant in the age of Artificial Intelligence, it’s no wonder that our perception of what constitutes a modern marvel has changed. When the phone in your pocket is a million times more powerful than the computers that guided NASA to the moon, it’s hard to truly appreciate where it all started.
So next time you’re watching a movie on your tablet, reading an eBook on your mobile device, or simply sending someone a message on your smartphone, take a moment to appreciate how far technology has come; because someday, those devices you marvel at now will simply be a picture on the wall of someone else’s computer lab.
Consumer Technology Specialist