30 June 2008

O Brave New World!

The Atlantic's on-line archive of articles includes one from 1982, James Fallows's "Living with a Computer." It includes this trip down memory lane:

When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen. . . . It is faster to type this way than with a normal typewriter, because you don't need to stop at the end of the line for a carriage return (the computer automatically "wraps" the words onto the next line when you reach the right-hand margin), and you never come to the end of the page, because the material on the screen keeps sliding up to make room for each new line. . .

My computer has a 48K memory. Since each K represents 1,024 bytes of information — each byte representing one character or digit — the machine can manipulate more than 49,000 items of information at a time. In practice, after allowing for the space that The Electric Pencil's programming instructions occupy in the computer's memory, the machine can handle documents 6,500 to 7,500 words long.
Very exciting. I look forward to upgrading my computer to 48K of RAM. But it's not just RAM: we've also got hundreds of kilobites of external storage:
When I've finished with such a chunk, I press another series of buttons and store what I have written on my disk drive. This is a cigar-box-shaped unit that sits next to my computer, connected through a shocking-pink ribbon cable containing thirty-four separate strands. Inside the drive is the floppy disk, which is essentially magnetic recording tape pressed into the shape of a small record and then enclosed in a square cardboard envelope, 5 1/4 inches on each side. . . . Each of the disks in my system can hold about 100K of information, or more than twice as much as a full load from the computer memory. If one disk is full, I pull it out and snap another in.
It dawns on me that my students have probably never touched a 5.25-inch diskette, have never measured the memory of anything in kilobytes, and have never handled tractor-feed paper. Damn punk kids — I've got socks older than they are.


Erik_Simpson said...

The setup Fallows describes is one for which I was overcome with jealousy when I spent my early adolescence programming a Vic-20, with 8K RAM and a cassette drive. In the time it took that machine to load the little craps program that my godfather sent me, my current Macbook could solve the mortgage crisis and make me a sandwich. Unfortunately, I've already eaten, so the mortgage crisis will remain a problem.

butterflyorigami said...

I have dealt with diskettes! I remember it well. I was around 4 so it must have been 1990, or maybe 1991.

Anonymous said...

So right!

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