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Imagine turning on your home computer to read the newspaper!
January 28, 2009 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Newspapers rush to deliver news online. A look at the future from 1981.
posted by empath (76 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
"For the moment, at least, this fellow isn't worried about being out of a job."
posted by mr_roboto at 5:00 PM on January 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm not exaggerating when I say this may be the single greatest thing I have ever found on Metafilter.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:01 PM on January 28, 2009


Interesting. I wonder what Richard Halloran, the guy interviewed as an early adopter, is doing now.

They also said that it took two hours to download the full text of the newspaper over the phone, and that there was an hourly use fee of $5.

I loved that last line, showing a man stocking a newspaper box, saying, "This man's not worried about losing his job yet."
posted by jayder at 5:02 PM on January 28, 2009


"we're not in it to make money"

It took decades for that to turn into a punchline. Wow.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:04 PM on January 28, 2009 [8 favorites]


"the two to three thousand people in the Bay Area with home computers"
posted by stargell at 5:06 PM on January 28, 2009


Never happen.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:06 PM on January 28, 2009


"The estimated two to three thousand home computer users in the Bay Area..."

Wow.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:06 PM on January 28, 2009


"Richard Halloran -- Owns Home Computer" -- well, he's one up on me. Mine died a couple of days ago. :-(
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 5:07 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


ACOUSTIC COUPLERS REPRESENT!


WWWHHHEEEEEE SSSSHHHHHH SHHHHHHHHH
posted by GuyZero at 5:07 PM on January 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


That SF computer adoption number has to be sloppy reporting. Perhaps they meant two to three thousand with modems?
posted by bunnytricks at 5:07 PM on January 28, 2009


I love cyber history. It's amazing to be a part of it, to be alive and watching it happen, knowing full well how incredible it is and the impact it has on the planet. After learning a few computer basics in 1999 and going online I was high for years after the discovery of search engines and the web in general, an ocean of learning right there, for free, 24 hours a day. Mind boggling.

Each few months there is some unexpected innovation. The last one that astonished me was the use of Tweet Grid in the Mumbai bomb crisis.

So cool to see a snippet of the early beginnings. Thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 5:10 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The poor innocent bastards had no fucking clue what they were starting.

But to its credit, The Next Whole Earth Catalog did.

"Life on the Computer Network Frontier: Likely to change our lives more than any technology since the automobile" (1981)

But addiction leads to overload: people get glutted with electronic information because access to it is so easy. People who belong to more than one network find it hard to keep up. People drop out periodically - occasional escape is a safety valve most networkers need.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:15 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


My business cards say:

FUZZY SKINNER
Owns Home Computer
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:16 PM on January 28, 2009


Loved the "owns home computer" subtitle. Actually laughed out loud.
posted by sharpener at 5:22 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember this video when people tell you that nothing ever changes or that the internet hasn't made a mark on the world.
posted by DU at 5:32 PM on January 28, 2009


....over two hours to download...
posted by Artw at 5:33 PM on January 28, 2009


Glad that things are looking a little more "spiffy" now...
posted by BoKnows at 5:39 PM on January 28, 2009


Just think, only ten short years later, those same two hours could be spent downloading a low-resolution, black-and-white image of Marina Sirtis' head pasted onto a nude body.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:40 PM on January 28, 2009 [11 favorites]


"can download anything in the newspaper, with the exception of pictures, ads and the comics"

hahahahaha, that's great. These days, they'd kill to get people to click on ads, let alone download them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:43 PM on January 28, 2009


Can we send our wristwatches and mobile phones back in time to conquer these idiots and steal their natural resources?
posted by Artw at 5:43 PM on January 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


The only thing that could have made this better is if when you load the Electronic Newspaper it says GREETINGS PROFESSOR FALKEN at the top.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 5:44 PM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Artw: "Can we send our wristwatches and mobile phones back in time to conquer these idiots and steal their natural resources?"

Of course, our stuff will look as laughable to people in 2037.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:50 PM on January 28, 2009


Well, if you want to go back even earlier, there was an outfit called The Source that got going around 1979. But online news was very accessible by 1983 or 1984 via CompuServe, as long as you didn't mind paying the costs. They had a pretty good network nationwide that was supplemented by Telenet and some other dial-in networks.
posted by crapmatic at 5:58 PM on January 28, 2009


When I see things like an acoustic coupler, I think "huh, when that was built, all telephones were assumed to have the same standard shape."

[boggles]

Then I remember my 2nd grade 'computer unit' where each got a little handbook with an actual punch card and a piece of magnetic tape glued inside.

[boggles at self in mirror]
posted by device55 at 6:06 PM on January 28, 2009


I think what we saw in that report was CompuServe.
posted by sixpack at 6:08 PM on January 28, 2009


Hah! You guys don't know how it was to access MetaFilter in 1981!

Two hours downloading the front page, and it still was full of single-link youtube posts. At the time we called them "TURN ON YOUR TV ON CHANNEL 5 AT 10PM (9 CENTRAL) FOR A CUTE CAT VIDEO!".

Also, all those first page posts about recently inaugurated Ronald Reagan... must have been at least five a day - his inauguration ball, his speech, his plans to recover the economy... fucking politicsfilter. And then, in every single one of them there was a comment telling me to LOCAL-LIBRARY-SEARCH RON PAUL.

But what I still miss is the Metafilter print version. The tone of blue on the paper was easier on the eyes, and you had a delivery boy to yell CRAP POST to his face (or, if it were a really crap post, let your pet elephant piss in his legs). It's a pity it all had to go away in the late 80s... what with all the cocaine induced drive-by goatse-ings.

Well, it was good while it lasted.
posted by qvantamon at 6:08 PM on January 28, 2009 [13 favorites]


I remember the little software (read: games) catalogue that came with our Radio Shack TRS-80 included CompuServe. So even from a very young age, I was certainly aware of the possibilities of the online world. (It just took about 15 years from that point to actually GET online in any meaningful way.)

By the way, this video was uploaded by Steve Newman, the actual reporter in the clip. Check out his other videos -- there's some neat snapshots of how weather's been presented on TV over the years.
posted by evilcolonel at 6:27 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, our stuff will look as laughable to people in 2037

More like 2027.
posted by cashman at 6:42 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember this video when people tell you that nothing ever changes or that the internet hasn't made a mark on the world.

I'll remember to use that zinger of a video to flame that strawman to heck. To HECK, I say!

Come on, who argues that the internet hasn't made a mark on the world? Ever?
posted by piratebowling at 6:47 PM on January 28, 2009


cubbyhole? Fuck you, 1981 -- I'd kill to get an office with a goddamn door.
posted by boo_radley at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


We've come so far from having to read text-only stuff on our computers. Am I right, Metafilter readers?
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:57 PM on January 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Like I said earlier today, when someone sent me this link:

Heh. It's like a slasher movie; THE INTERNET'S IN THE HOUSE!!!! GET OUT!!!! IT WANTS TO KILL YOU AND YOUR PROFESSION.
posted by jpburns at 7:01 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I see things like an acoustic coupler, I think "huh, when that was built, all telephones were assumed to have the same standard shape."

A few years back, I found an old box of stored junk which contained my old 300 baud acoustic coupler. I really wanted to try to make it work - I still had the right kind of serial port - but I couldn't find a right-shaped phone anywhere.
posted by pompomtom at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Top banana.
posted by carter at 7:29 PM on January 28, 2009


Seeing a rotary phone was enough to make me like where this was going.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I feel very fortunate that I've had some form of internet access since 1991 or 1992, that's when I first discovered computer bulletin boards. And quickly after that, found out my school was wired into this mysterious and wring that idiotic period.. imagine Second Life with 1993 graphics and not nearly as much avatar control. Now imagine that, as your universal internet browser. onderful global network. Because it was such a new concept, a community of people who don't exist in the real world.. people just couldn't quite grasp it, everyone wanted there to be some sort of center, some sort of universal Hub. Then the horrendous VRML was invented. To people who weren't around du

People were trying to fulfill the promise of Sci-Fi at the time, that this "Virtual Reality" would change the world. So everything had to be Lawnmower Man-esque graphics, no matter how little sense it made to be using an avatar to walk to a library to access a terminal program where I actually contact the library.

Actually come to think of it, the public library was my first exposure to computer networks. As a kid I would sit at the dumb terminal that acted as an electronic card catalog and try to find ways out of the program. Eventually I found out how to get a command prompt, but then I had to figure out how to navigate beyond this terminal, etc.. it fascinated me, I was a little hacker in training just trying to find things on library computers. I would often get busted by the librarians and not understand why I was in trouble.. I knew I wasn't causing any harm, just exploring.. it was like my version of a dungeon crawl. Explore deeper and deeper, always try to see if I can get to another computer, another network. And I was only freakin 8 years old.. By the time I got into the big leagues and could access any computer in the world using Z-Terminal on any one of the 75 or some large number of Mac Classics in my middle school computer lab, circa 1991.. I went to school early, stayed late, spent all my breaks and lunches in the lab. Just accessing other computers and seeing what I can do, where I can go. It was amazing. Then I discovered the USENET and found the deep and ugly sides of the internet which were equally as amazing and fascinating. I remember writing down complex instructions for a kid on how to get this fake GIF image of Christina Applegate (a major sex symbol at the time for teenage boys) onto their computer. Writing out longhand instructions on how to configure the network, use Z-Terminal to connect to a network where you can download an FTP program. Use FTP program to access student server at Rutgers university where a student had an unsecure personal storage folder that I could easily access. In this he had a few odds and ends, a paper he was working on, and this image of fake Christina Applegate spread eagle in all her puffy labia glory. That was my first internet porn experience, circa 1992.

So when I hear about people who never even used computers or the internet until the 2000's or something.. I feel like they missed out on how cool it used to be. But these people would probably just be frusterated and bored that they couldn't find a streaming video of Christina Applegate's softcore scene from her 1996 film Vibrations. It took a certain type of lonely dork, more interested in this imaginary cyberspace they poke around in using command prompts to be really into the internet back then. Once HTML came around, it all became consumer-level and lowest common denominator. Such is the cost of exponential growth, I suppose.

Stop typing, mediocre. Thanks.
posted by mediocre at 7:40 PM on January 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


device55: "When I see things like an acoustic coupler, I think "huh, when that was built, all telephones were assumed to have the same standard shape." "

I looking across the kitchen at such a phone right now. A black dial unit bolted to the wall and hard wired in. It was in the house when we moved in, I'm sure it's been on that wall for forty years, we haven't had the heart to take it down yet. It's still wired into the system but you can't make calls on it since our Comcast digital phone system doesn't deal with the dial signals.
posted by octothorpe at 7:51 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I usually hate SLYT posts, but have to say I found this pretty amazing.

Fortunately, I believe in revisionist history, so refuse to believe I ever lived without high speed internet access.

I remember one of the first websites/social communities I was involved in was a Usenet group, and some guy at some UK university built an actual website! He thought it would be cool to put up photos of all the people that were regular contributors to the site. Several people had to MAIL him their photos.

I also remember using links (a terminal based text only web browser) on my 2400 baud modem. Oh, wait, no I don't that was a T1 line! I forgot, revising my history here.

You can imagine how many people I will be showing this to tomorrow (I work at a newspaper). What a find. Great fun. And loved the anchor's hair.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:05 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus Gahd. I opened this up to chortle and guffaw, but as soon as I saw that terminal I stopped laughing. The terminal and screen display look exactly like the one I used at my very first newspaper job in 1988 - it was a wire terminal, on which we subscribed to realtime updates from the AP, Reuters, and maybe a dozen other news outlets around the country as well as the BBC and other international services. I had an overnight clerking job, and used to love sitting there refreshing the screen and looking for updates. The News wire was hottest and most interesting, but there was also a Features wire with subsections for travel, etc. It was addictive. If a celebrity or world leader died, I was the first to know; explosions, earthquakes, disasters - I followed them as details creeped in little by little, green line by green line on a horribly lo-res screen. So dramatic and immediate, almost like listening into a Morse code transmission from the war front might have been a few decades earlier. All that information, from all those newspapers around the world, text on screen, ever-changing, right now.

I never thought of that funny little terminal in relation to my early-90s activities on the internet, which resembled mediocre's somewhat, except for the Christina Applegate part. But it was the same idea, journalism style, and I was hooked on it before I discovered the academic internet. It was the shadow world of exchanged information, this unseen non-place where ideas flew through the ether and you could have them, if you were connected to the conduit. The atmosphere of breaking news still calls to mind, for me, the feeling of sitting at a large city desk in a giant darkened newsroom, bathed in the light of a green screen, watching the events of the world register one by one with an unusually vivid feeling -- the electric crackle of knowing that real people, around the world, were connected by this sharing of information.
posted by Miko at 8:10 PM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


> "This man's not worried about losing his job yet."

Reminds me of the first thing I ever read about downloading music, an article in the Toronto Star circa 1994-95 in which their music columnist took 45 minutes to download a Duran Duran single, said it sounded terrible and predicted online music wasn't going anywhere.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:10 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


More like 2027.

More like 2017.
posted by mediareport at 8:18 PM on January 28, 2009


I love that Richard Halloran (Owns Home Computer) says that one of the great features is that if he finds something interesting he can copy it onto paper and save it. Um, Richard, there's this amazing invention I'd like to tell you about. It's called a "newspaper".
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:20 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


"The Chronicle reports that over 500 have responded by sending back coupons."

Today, those very same 500 computer owners are sending you mass e-mailings without use of the BCC field, fictional Letterman Top Ten lists, and long-debunked advice for avoiding rape and/or kidney theft every day.
posted by katillathehun at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love the mockup of the (ASCII) computer terminal showing the actual (dead tree) newspaper front page, masthead and all. It looks completely normal...until you realize it was a laughable impossibility at the time.
posted by PlusDistance at 8:28 PM on January 28, 2009


Imagine touching actual paper to read the newspaper!
posted by oaf at 8:29 PM on January 28, 2009


This was a fascinating video!

Like others, I loved the "The estimated two to three thousand home computer users in the Bay Area...", the fact that Mr. Halloran was identified as "Owns Home Computer", and the guy who wasn't worried about losing his job.

I though it was interesting, though, that the text delivery system looked very similar to the system they have in several countries called Teletext. The Swedish version (text-TV) is very good, and it's been delivering news, TV guide, lottery info, etc. for many years - since way before the internet was widespread. Wonder how long that will last. Looks like it's being turned off in many place around Europe with the switch to digital broadcasts.
posted by gemmy at 8:36 PM on January 28, 2009


Facinating. It's a little depressing. I mean, I remember when computers held so much wonder and the internet, the emerging internet still felt revolutionary. Now, frankly, it feels like it's topped out and crap like twitter is just idiotic fluff.
posted by delmoi at 8:49 PM on January 28, 2009


I still like reading the paper newspaper. It's kinetic and multisensory.

Check it out! Based on my terminal memories above I started trying to find out what that terminal was called and what the system was that it was running on. Found this, from Slate:

How Newspapers Tried to Invent the Web - But Failed
Newspapers and other media entities started experimenting with videotex technology in the 1970s...In 1979, the Knight Ridder newspaper chain established a videotex subsidiary to develop its Viewtron service, Boczkowski writes. Clunky and toylike by today's standards (see the silly, pre-Donkey Kong-quality graphics), the early system required an expensive, dedicated terminal. Yet after conducting trials in 1980, the system held sufficient promise that Knight Ridder succeeded in selling Viewtron franchises to other newspapers. More than a dozen other dailies played with videotex during the decade, including newspapers in the Times-Mirror chain, Cowles Media, and McClatchy Newspapers, as well as at the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Post.

Howard Finberg of the Poynter Institute remembers that Viewtron could fetch from the "Miami Herald or the New York Times the night before the paper hit your doorstep," access the Associated Press, look up airline schedules, access bank account info, and order a meal online. Not bad for the dark ages, eh?
Gawker: 5 Ways Newspapers Botched the Web

Understanding Viewtron: Slideshow with text showing the Viewtron setup.

The terminal I used wasn't a Viewtron (thank God), just a green-screen with keyboard. The menus look pretty similar, though - choose your provider service, hit the number for subcategory.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I also remember we had to attend a seminar on "computer-assisted reporting" in 1988 or 1989. One of the young rising star reporters was asked by an editor to talk about how he broke some story about...driver licensing ID scams or something like that, by comparing state databases. It seemed pretty out there, even to me, and I'd had computers in school. To the older reporters - some of whom started in the 40s, in fact - it was nutso. What's a database? Who has it? How do you look at it? It's like a list, but - "Search function?"

Of course, the other revolution I think about was in the physical layout of the paper, done entirely digitally now. Just 20 years ago they were still pasting up. The production room was a half dozen people standing around drafting tables with sticky, vinegary-smelling printouts of stories and art, cutting them with X-Actos and setting them carefully onto gridded newsprint-size dummy sheets. We used to wince, the next day, when you could see places where they'd had to re-cut and move text to fit around a late-arriving ad or something. And woe to you if you had to go in and tell them that A1 was changing - a late-breaking front page story meant that not only the front page itself, but all the pages it jumped to, had to be re-composed. And it was midnight already. One thing I miss in today's papers is all the hand-drawn and hand-colored art that went along with stories - if we didn't have a photo for a feature, someone would just break out the Prismacolors and create some awesome artwork, by hand, on the spot.

It's really interesting that all the challenges of web information handling were being experienced - and met, to some degree - by journalists in the 1980s, and yet theirs didn't become the paradigm for the eventual web. The articles do a pretty good job of explaining why, but what an interesting chapter in information-tech history this is.
posted by Miko at 8:55 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am very tempted right now to open a sockpuppet account with the user name "Richard Halloran (Owns Home Computer) ."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:58 PM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the Videotex terminal they are using at the newspaper. It's the machine that Tandy would evolve into the TRS-80 Color Computer.

I had a CoCo back in the early '80s, so I recognized it's forebear.
posted by MythMaker at 9:36 PM on January 28, 2009


My very first internet access was in 1990. I got a Compuserve account and my email address was 09870978689769@6758765876 or some crazy shit like that. That wasn't the cool part.
The cool part was firing up Windows Terminal and watching the streaming AP news feed on my 10" monitor! I remember feeling pretty badass at that point, as if I'd tapped into an underground information railroad.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:39 PM on January 28, 2009


I got a Compuserve account and my email address was 09870978689769@6758765876 or some crazy shit like that.

Holy shit it's you!!!!! I was 889300498278399@85012849499!!!!!! We hung out in the CB channel together!

Good times, good times.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:05 PM on January 28, 2009


The 'internet' is the CB Radio of the 90s.

You heard it here first.
posted by mazola at 10:06 PM on January 28, 2009


You heard it here first.

I am reading this as some kind of weird fifth level of sarcasm thing.
posted by Wolof at 12:02 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how steampunk that sweet red phone looks now.

And how the anchor so clearly says HOME COMPUTER in quotation marks.

Somehow reminds me how, up until quite recently, newspaper articles were still doggedly explaining to the masses: "'blog,' which is short for 'weblog' ..."
posted by melixxa600 at 12:13 AM on January 29, 2009


It's fascinating to think of the odds of this particular clip getting dug up and shared to such a wide audience. I wonder what those reporters would say if told that decades hence their one-time puff piece would be recorded and then bandied about on a worldwide network of billions as an example of how woefully unprepared they were for the wired world. Not only that, but the idea that the same network they're cooing over in this video would soon eviscerate their industry... I'd really like to see some follow-up from these people.

In a similar vein, I think it'd be interesting to know what scraps of our culture will serve the same role for future generations. It would be almost as enlightening as knowing what current one-off comments and predictions would someday receive dozens of favorites from Mefites yet to come.

It would be like Early Edition for the internet age. I can see it now:

"I don't get all this noise about Jindal. He's just another right-wing whackjob. The only way he'd ever get elected would be in the middle of a religious coup. He'd be a disaster."
posted by random_dude at 3:43 AM on January 30, 2009 [+] [137 favorites on 11.04.12] [!]

Then the one user with the power to see these Favorites from the Future would have to avert the crisis... somehow.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:14 AM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


IT REMINDS ME OF THE DAYS WHEN UPPER CASE WAS NOT ABOUT SHOUTING. IT WAS, IN FACT, THE WAY THAT PEOPLE EXPECTED ALL TEXT TO BE WHEN THEY SAW IT ON A COMPUTER SCREEN. IT LOOKS AS IF THEY TRANSLATED THE WHOLE DAMN PAPER INTO UPPER CASE. MAYBE IT WAS BECAUSE IT HAD FEWER CURVES.THE DOT MATRIX PRINTERS OF THE TIME WERE PRETTY CRAP AT PRINTING ANYTHING THAT WAS CURVY. *EOM*.
posted by rongorongo at 2:13 AM on January 29, 2009


ugh, and i know people - probably some of those 2,000 home computer owners - who STILL DEMAND TO SEND ALL EMAILS IN CAPS. thank god we've evolved.
posted by Glibpaxman at 2:38 AM on January 29, 2009


Interesting. I wonder what Richard Halloran, the guy interviewed as an early adopter, is doing now.

Just a guess, but I suspect Mr. Halloran is no longer with us.

That SF computer adoption number has to be sloppy reporting. Perhaps they meant two to three thousand with modems?

Not particularly. The IBM PC was not released until August, 1981, and they cost $3,000 with 64kb of memory and one floppy drive. You really didn't see personal computers in the workplace until a few years later, which limited their numbers and exposure outside the workplace.

Of course you had Apple IIs and IIIs, Commodores, TRS-80s and homebrew PCs, but they were pretty expensive as well and were just starting to show up in homes then.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:20 AM on January 29, 2009


Oh wow, when was the last time I used a rotary phone?

Used to take what seemed like for ever... dialing in a number, waiting for the dial to come back (click, click, click....) dialing in the next number then the next... then... finally... beep! beep! beep! Engaged!

You youngsters don't know how lucky you are with your mobiles and voice mail and home computers.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:18 AM on January 29, 2009


You youngsters don't know how lucky you are with your mobiles and voice mail and home computers.

Oh, but we do, and every day we offer incense and a pure white pigeon in thanks for our bounty. Once a a year, on Turing's birthday, we kill a fatted calf, hoping it will appease the Great Powers, and we won't be reduced to our forefathers' condition, having no way of obtaining cats with captions, not having any way of making phone calls except from specific places in our houses, and being unpredictably eaten by saber-toothed tigers.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:03 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that the 2000-3000 number is low - in 1981 I had a Sinclair ZX-80, and enough other people at work had them that we had a club, and that was in Lansing Michigan, not high-tech California. By 1982 I had a CompuServe account that I logged on to with a VIC-20 and VICmodem.
posted by rfs at 6:27 AM on January 29, 2009


Facinating. It's a little depressing. I mean, I remember when computers held so much wonder and the internet, the emerging internet still felt revolutionary.

I'm so old, I remember when ATMs were a wondrous and revolutionary idea. My banker Uncle told us all about The Future and it seemed so exciting-- to be able to get real money out of a machine 24/7 using a card. Whoo Hoo.

I also was very privileged to play with punch cards-- mostly turning them into Christmas Wreaths and spray painting them gold. Growing up in the 60s, my neighbor worked for IBM. Looking back now, I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see where he worked.

Mostly what I remember about the nineties, was how extraordinarily expensive it all was ($500 or $600 a month was not that unusual for dial-up) and how much time it all took. I always found something to do-- a puzzle, a newspaper, a book-- while I waited for pages to load.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2009


Artw: "Can we send our wristwatches and mobile phones back in time to conquer these idiots and steal their natural resources?"

Of course, our stuff will look as laughable to people in 2037.


This is why we only oppress people from the past!
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on January 29, 2009


I also don't think the 2000-3000 number is wrong. 1981 was really early for home computing, and I would place the boom maybe one year after that. You could probably find stats somewhere. My dad was an electrical engineer for simulator computers, and that's about the same time he was taking me to work to play Dungeon on the mainframes. I would return to school bragging that I had used a computer and kids would say "Nah AH." Home computing was pretty esoteric and confined to geeks like my dad at first.

By 1983 my middle school had 2 computers in the library on which we learned BASIC.

My high school writing teacher was an early adopter of email - seemed very exotic. That was 1984.
posted by Miko at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2009


"Of course you had Apple IIs and IIIs, Commodores, TRS-80s and homebrew PCs, but they were pretty expensive as well and were just starting to show up in homes then."

That's about the time I got an Apple ][e. Didn't have a modem.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2009


I'm so old, I remember when ATMs were a wondrous and revolutionary idea.

I remember a tutor at university telling my how lucky we were; what a pain it had been to have to rush out on a Friday lunchtime and queue in the bank with everyone else to get your beer money for the whole weekend.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:08 AM on January 29, 2009


So somehow MeFi burped and I came back this morning to find this comment from yesterday unposted...

For those not in the know: acoustic couplers don't really work past 300 baud or so. Way back then BBSs and the like didn't even bother having something like "more" that let the user pause text to read it - it was downloaded slower than most people could read so you just let it scroll on by at "full" speed. This system must have been PAINFUL to use. It probably took several minutes to download short articles.

That SF computer adoption number has to be sloppy reporting. Perhaps they meant two to three thousand with modems?

Dude, 1981. I would wager that, yes, there were only a couple thousand home computers in SF, period. This was the year before the Commodore 64 was released. There were probably more than 2,000 computers in the valley, but SF wasn't quite a high-tech hotbed just yet. Hell, a lot of Sunnyvale was still orchards back in '81.
posted by GuyZero at 9:25 AM on January 29, 2009


what a pain it had been to have to rush out on a Friday lunchtime and queue in the bank with everyone else

God, I totally remember that from growing up and from my high school jobs. The Friday line at the bank was miserable. They used to have late hours on Thursdays so you could get in and get your money for the weekend. Also, once your money ran out, it ran out. That was true not just for beer for students, but in families - you had to get money Friday for all the groceries, gas, entertainment, fees, and whatever else you needed until Monday morning. If you miscalculated, you just sucked it up. Many's the time we counted coins to put together some gas money on Sunday evening. My mom would sometimes write a check at the grocery store for an overage in order to get some emergency weekend cash.

It's really been quite a shift, made incrementally enough that we adapted pretty much smoothly. It's impressive, and illustrates the way technological revolutions really happen: not with a bang, but with a lot of false starts, small changes, and dead-end canals.
posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I often say to my friends that I love living in the future. This is much cooler than flying cars and jetpacks. You've just gotten so used to it you don't realize it.
posted by Hactar at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2009


Somebody less lazy than me needs to make up a bunch of t-shirts that say (OWNS HOME COMPUTER) in a white dot matrix font on black and sell them. I'll be happy to buy the first one.
posted by mattholomew at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm so old, I remember when ATMs were a wondrous and revolutionary idea.

When I was in college ATMs were still very new and every bank had a different system and you could only use the one that your bank used. So at Penn State they had a huge kiosk with 6 or 7 different ATMS. That was before you could use your card to buy everything too, most stores only took cash.
posted by octothorpe at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2009


jayder: Interesting. I wonder what Richard Halloran, the guy interviewed as an early adopter, is doing now.

SteveInMaine: Just a guess, but I suspect Mr. Halloran is no longer with us.

After I typed that question, I looked for him on Google, and he seems to be this Richard Halloran, who is still very much alive and an active columnist. (There's a picture of him here, about a third of the way down the page. Appears to be the same guy.)
posted by jayder at 4:24 PM on January 29, 2009


"the two to three thousand people in the Bay Area with home computers"
posted by stargell at 5:06 PM on January 28 [+] [!]

"The estimated two to three thousand home computer users in the Bay Area..."

Wow.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:06 PM on January 28 [+] [!]


Comment number 2: molto eponysterical.
posted by the_bone at 5:00 PM on January 29, 2009


After I typed that question, I looked for him on Google, and he seems to be this Richard Halloran, who is still very much alive and an active columnist.

I'm sorry, jayder, but I really don't think that's the same guy. I am pretty well acquainted with the Asia analyst Richard Halloran you linked to, and in RL he doesn't look like the guy in the video at all. (Here is an older pic of him from the 80:s as well.) The proof is in the hairline, though. Pause at about 1:40 in the video and compare them - nowhere close.
posted by gemmy at 9:43 PM on January 29, 2009


Ok, so I was curious about this. I dropped a note to Steve Newman - the reporter in the video who now runs earthweek.com - pointing him to this thread and asking him if he had any more info on Richard Halloran. Within 15 minutes of me contacting him, Mr. Newman answered (kudos!).

He said that the Asia analyst by that name is not the Richard Halloran in the video, but that he didn't remember any other details about him than than was in the video itself. He said Mr. Halloran had just been one of the people who sent in a coupon and who registered to use the new online service. He also said that he would let me know if he remembered anything else.
posted by gemmy at 9:03 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


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