How We Got Here (26)

June 14, 2014

Personal computers

And all of this intercommunication is possible only because of the rise of personal computers, another American innovation that transformed the world. Like all technology, it left home and changed as it grew, so that by the turn of the century people were inventing variations and applications suited to their own particular needs. (Some were of little use in developed countries but were revolutionary in third-world countries. For instance, solar recharge stations for laptops where there was no reliable electric grid.) America’s vast domestic market, its educated middle class, and its businesses with sufficient capital to reorganize around the availability of this new way of doing certain things provided the market that allowed the computers to be developed. Apple revolutionized the graphics-design industry, because it allowed things to be done in an instant that previously would not have been done at all, because they would have required too much time and labor. Thus, if you want to change fonts, tinge artwork with another color, insert special effects such as bending the type or inverting the picture, or mirroring it – all of these things could be done without computers, but only with great disproportionate effort, so, in practice, they weren’t done, or weren’t done much.

Apple introduced the first personal computer in 1975. It made a big enough impact that IBM introduced the Personal Computer, or IBM PC, in 1983. Apples far outperformed PCs in every way, but PCs were far cheaper, and were more than adequate for most business uses. Besides, they were safer for corporate purchasing agents to recommend. As someone said, “no one ever got fired for buying PCs instead of Apples.” Apple in those days was seen as quirky, arty, and, in a way, not quite respectable. Apple would not fully come into its own until the beginning of the next century. But it had helped transform the final quarter of the 20th.



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