45 years ago: Computers are a fad

April 1, 1968, on this blog: Computers are a fad

Just attended this presentation, in which Douglas Englebart
of the Stanford Research Institute  argues that mechanized
thinking machines will "augment the human intellect."

"If in your office," Engelbart said, "you as an intellectual
worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a
computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly
responsive to every action you have, how much value could
you derive from that?  Well this basically characterizes what
we've been pursuing for many years in what we call the
Augmented Human Intellect Research Center ..."

So Engelbart envisions a computer on the desk of every
American worker.  I'm optimistic about the future -- this
is 1968, our Space Age future is already here -- but this
seems like a preposterous fantasy.  It's like imagining that
someday ordinary people will own telephones. ...
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  • Andrea

    I am trapped on IE8 at work with no options to upgrade or install other browsers, and Disqus crashes it about 50% of the time (and renders it improperly about half of the rest of the time). Thank you, I will look into this immediately.
    …damn, it already says IE8 Standards.

  • P J Evans

    The house we lived in when I was a kid had a rotary wall phone, carefully mounted at the height for an adult. My parents had shared a party-line phone with people whose small children payed ‘intercom’ with their phone, and weren’t going there again. (It did make sure the phone wasn’t physically blocked.)

  • Panda Rosa

    I dunno, I miss sticking my finger in the dial and hearing it spin, tck-tck-tck-tck…

  • P J Evans

    The idea of the same people who drive with a cell phone in hand, trying to handle a flying *anything* safely … I *don’t* want them around.

  • B

    Yeah, I love my iPod touch, but I always had trouble with the original iPods when I had a chance to play around with one — I found the interface to access and play the music confusing.

    As far as getting the music, apps, etc. onto the thing in the first place… well, consider that for many Windows users iTunes is the only piece of software by Apple they use. If I were going to give people who use my major competitor one piece of software, knowing they were inevitably going to just me by it as it was the only thing I made that they used… well, it wouldn’t be iTunes. Just saying.

    (Most awkward thing ever, I swear.)

  • B

    In other news, is it no longer possible to sign in via Yahoo? Because I used to sign in through my Yahoo e-mail account, but I don’t see the option anymore.

  • G.G.

    My grandma leased her phone until about 2005 or so.

  • My parents saved the pittance you could save by refusing Touch Tone service for as long as you were allowed to save a pittance by refusing touch tone service. Even the push button phones we slowly acquired had to be set to generate pulses instead of tones (They used to have a switch that let you do that). Though my dad had a small box that he could carry around with him that generated touch tones which came with his answering machine so that you could order it to play your messages from a rotary phone (Or, I suppose, make free calls on hotel phones).

    The phone I had in my early teens was so old that I had to install the modular jack myself. And the number plate in the center (So back when phones were rotary, there was a panel in the center of the dial where either you or the phone company would print your phone number) gave the exchange as “Garfield 3”. Also, it wouldn’t ring, because the giant mechanical bell inside needed about 50 volts to budge it.

  • Lori

    Accidents on the ground are more than bad enough. Accidents that result in you falling out of the sky? No. Just, no.

  • I think it’s no longer possible. I know it’s no longer possible to sign in via openID, which is why I’m now linked to my facebook rather than my livejournal.

  • Norman Rafferty

    It’s not that the original author thinks that computers are a fad. It’s that the original author questions why people would want to OWN a computer instead of rent or lease one.

    It’s worth noting that many people today don’t own their own telephones. They lease them through their cell phone companies. Or are those phones actually computers? Come to think of it, what about my software? The fine print in many EULAs says I don’t own that, either.

  • P J Evans

    “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” – Ken Olson, president and CEO of DEC. In 1977.

    Missed that boat at least three times. (PDP-8, LSI-11 and ‘Falcon’ design, MicroVax.)

  • Obviously true though it may seem, I think that there’s a lot of accidents that could be avoided if “up” was a viable direction to swerve.

    Also, of all the things that can go wrong during flight, “Flew into a tree at 30,000 feet” isn’t one of them.

  • SisterCoyote

    …okay, you win. That’s quite a phone-story. Ye gods, technology.

  • P J Evans

    At 30,000 feet, you’ll miss the cumulo-granite clouds, too.

  • Chris Hadrick is well-known for his hobby horse than Krugman is always wrong because blah blah Cato and Mises Institutes.

  • reynard61

    That’d make a great The Book of Biff caption…

  • The_L1985

    Actually, the complaints I heard were more along the lines of, “I already have an MP3 player, and it cost me $25. Who’s going to spend all that money on an iPod?”

  • The_L1985

    The old iPods were annoying rubbish to me, too. I had a Philips Jukebox ToGo around the same time I was dating a fellow with a 1st or 2nd generation iPod. It was clunky, hard to figure out, and I couldn’t stand it. My MP3 player was sleek, sexy, and easy to use by comparison.

    Then a couple years ago when it died, my mom got me an iPod touch (4th gen). It was a LOT easier to figure out, and you could search for songs a lot more easily. You still have to use iTunes, though, which can be a pain.

    OTOH, an iPod or iPhone with a camera can be recognized as a hard drive containing image files, so those can be dragged-and-dropped. Whatever player you get is a trade-off.

  • The_L1985

    Part of me is upset that we don’t have flying cars like the Jetsons did. Another part of me remembers what a bad driver the average person is in an ordinary car.

    Plus, the DeLorean had those awesome spaceship-looking doors, and today’s cars have such gizmos as remote locks or remote start.

  • The_L1985

    The moon colony that Pan Am flies you to regularly?

  • I like his 90’s stuff. This quote happened to come up on twitter at the same time as this topic. He was right on this one though. I use my fax machine for everything: sending important documents, skeet shooting, washing my car.

  • VMink

    I have no idea if it will be ‘cumulo-granite.tumblr.com’ or if it will be the name of my lounge-style Dio cover band, but that is a wonderful phrase. Thank you!

  • I just thought “Why would anyone pay that much money for an mp3 player that will only hold half their music?”

  • Ross Thompson

    I still think the best MP3 player yet made is the iRiver H300. Quite apart from anything else, it beat the iPod on having physical buttons that you could feel, and use without taking your eyes off the road. Mine died several years ago, and I’ve had a series of 4th/5th/6th gen iPods to replace it, but even running Rockbox, it’s an inferior experience.


  • Ross Thompson

    No, you own your cellphone. You just get a massive discount for also agreeing to buy services costing $x/month for several years.

  • P J Evans

    I know someone who got a PDP-15 that was being surplused from a university lab. Three 6-foot-tall racks, plus a Teletype. He had to be careful about turning it on, in the house he lived in at the time, because breakers would trip. It had Spacewar, though…

  • Makabit

    I teach high school. Some kids asked me, in one class, if I’d ‘been in’ the Vietnam War. I said I had not.

    “But do you remember it?”


    “Why not?”

    “Because I was born in 1973.”

    “But Father Nguyen remembers it. He was telling us all about it.”

    :”Boys, Father Nguyen is at least ten years my senior, and was born and raised in Vietnam. It makes kind of a difference.”