Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dawn of the Computosphere?

I have a news reader set up to watch for items with the keyword "typewriter" in case there's any items of interest flashing past. One that's getting a lot of circulation lately is the recent pronouncement by an IBM exec that the personal computer is going the way of the typewriter and other outmoded technologies, meaning that they (PCs) are being supplanted by tablets and smart phones and the like.

Do you think there will be a point, perhaps ten or twenty years in the future when we're waxing nostalgic for our Pentiums and trying to source NOS 3.5-inch floppy disks? Before you snort derisively, I know that there's more than a few of us -- myself included -- who keep their old computers around: the Tandys and Commodores and TIs and Sinclairs and such. Maybe today's kids are being born at the end of the PC age: will they adopt it with the same sort of fervor that we've adopted another once-ubiquitous technology? I imagine a group of enthusiasts sourcing old modems and rigging up specialized cables so they can put together an improvised dialup BBS circa 1985 over whatever wireless network is in fashion at the time.

Personally, I'm not sure it will happen: I don't think the PC lends itself to a romantic view like a typewriter does, and if it is truly seeing the end of its days, it's entire lifespan was roughly thirty to forty years long at most, whereas the typewriter lasted well longer than a century. And I know that PCs weren't engineered to be as durable, though some of the very first IBMs were quite solid (having had the experience of lugging them around computer labs in my mis-spent youth.) I wouldn't be surprised if those will last a few more decades, at least: those that escaped the upgrade cycle, anyhow.

What do you think? Is the PC dead or dying? And is it headed for the same fate as the machine it replaced?


Cameron said...

It seems to me that computers have a built-in obsolescence; they tend to be made rather shoddily -- especially the laptops. Perhaps their bigger desktop cousins will survive long enough to become collectibles eventually.

Typewriters, on the other hand, were built to LAST. With a few exceptions, you just can't kill 'em.

It continually amazes me that one of my favorite "typers" is an Underwood Model 5, made in 1911. I can't imagine computers lasting a century!

notagain said...

I doubt it will expand much beyond the extent it already exists. I won't be involved for the same reasons I don't collect electric typewriters - too many ways to fail, too many oddball supllies (ribbon cartridges, etc.). It's way more problematic than manual typewriters. Some would get a kick out of that.

Richard P said...

I still have my '89 Macintosh SE stashed in a closet. That thing was rugged and did everything I needed it to at that time.

Though I don't know much about it, I think there is a sizeable group of early PC collectors. Try looking at the prices for an Apple Lisa (the rare predecessor to the Mac). But for me, faded plastic, burned-out components, and obsolete software hold little charm.

If I'm not mistaken, Rev. Munk would disagree!

wordrebel said...

I think it's the tablet that will be fading away before too long. Obviously the explosion of the iPad would say differently but I for one really don't see too many in the wild. The main cause for their downfall is, I believe, the lack of physical buttons. People like the finality of the key popping back at them. The onscreen keys are great for placing a call or playing Angry Birds but when real work needs to be done, you need the feedback of mechanical keys. Perhaps this would account at least in a small way for the resurgance of the typewriter?

Elizabeth H. said...

Slightly off-topic...but one subject that came up in discussion at the type-in was how dependent on current infrastructure much of our technology has become. We can sit and try to figure out how to work an Oliver and eventually make it out (and have fun doing so!)...but how much fun will people really be able to have with an early iPhone or a 2011 laptop without any access to compatible networking and programs?

maschinengeschrieben said...

Computers are intensive to maintain. These thousands of different electronic pieces aren't that solid as a typewriter, I don't believe my notebook would still work in more than 10 years.

Ted said...

Actually, the computers I've kept are the simplest ones that still have a useful function and last for decades. The TRS-80 Model 4p up until last year served a useful purpose and still runs using the same 180K 5.25" floppy disk that I made for it in the mid-90's. The Model 100 and Tandy 200's all run on 4 AA batteries and are not only workable word processors, but run a program I use to control time-lapse cameras.

PC's, IMHO, are made to die. I have kept none of the 2 dozen or so PC's that I've owned in the past 2 decades. They are all scrap now. Even if I had them, I can't think of any use for them as they couldn't do anything in particular better than my TRS-80's can, and they generally ran on batteries that are defunct now.

in other words, don't look for me to join a 286 collectors group anytime soon. :D

Strikethru said...

I think this subculture already exists and is bigger than the typosphere. Lots of Gen X engineers are into early computers. My brother has a massive collection, in fact. Let us not forget the NPR bit on buckling spring keyboards, in which I stammer for three seconds:

Strikethru said...

Typosphere field trip? MPC, surely you've been here:

Duffy Moon said...

There's no limit to what people will fetishize.

I think PC retrophiles, though, will be qualitatively different: PC's sort of lend themselves to various hacks, upgrades, retrofitting and such. A lover of machine type, I think, is more interested in preservation of something that is a work of art that cannot (apart from some paint, perhaps) be improved upon.

Chris B. said...

I still have my Commodore VIC-20 that I bought at K-Mart in 1982 in my office at work. If somebody comes by complaining that their computer is too slow, I just offer them the VIC-20. No takers so far. Can you guess, I'm an IT guy. Nick Burns your company computer guy

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