1979 computer shop guy predicts the future

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/30/1979-computer-store-operators.html


This was only a couple of years before Neuromancer. Cyberpunk was already a thing. A lot of people knew where we were going. The dot com boom around 2000 failed because we didn’t have always on internet. Subsequent work on ADSL and 3G networking cemented the deal.


A computer has really never obsoleted a job that didn’t need to be obsoleted.

For 1979 that statement is truly visionary. Does it still hold true?

Or is the computer at least part of the answer to where the middle class went? (this guy says ‘no’).

Or is it both?

This was all pretty common discussion at the time, though maybe not so much in Iowa… Ted Nelson had already been hanging around street corners hawking this double book for 5 years at that point:


Yeah, it’s not exactly an either/or thing. Certainly policy has hurt the middle class. But there were a lot of lower-middle-class office jobs like filing clerks that spent their time organizing paper folders of information in filing cabinets that just don’t exist anymore thanks to computers and databases. Nobody’s claiming that such jobs were deep and fulfilling, but they were better (or at least better paying) than the service/retail jobs that people of similar lack of training get today.


The dude did have some pretty forward thinking ideas about computers for that time in their life cycle…

…but still waiting for that 3 day work week to become a reality!


The most prophetic look at computing I encountered was in the early 1980s, when I was in the basement computer center at Northeastern University. I had just spent the better part of the weekend struggling with a Pascal program that I was writing on a VT-100 connected to a VAX, debugging it from the line-printer printouts. I had discovered that a ] character on this line printer looked an awful lot like a } , which was the problem with my code. I finally got the damned thing to run and sat back when a prospective student tour arrived. The parents and kids looked sufficiently awed. One parent looked around at the students furiously working at the terminals and asked, in a heavy Boston accent, “Hey – I can ask this computah any question I want and it’ll answer it, right?”
My immediate thought was “this guy is the biggest moron I’ve ever known.” But I was wrong. In one question the guy had managed to predict the internet, google, GPS, wikipedia, Alexa and everything else we’re experiencing in the twenty-first century.


Well over the past 200 years or so, we have had waves of productivity improvements that make people more productive and thus requiring fewer people to do the same work. For about 30 years time after WWII, the fruits of those improvements were shared with the remaining employees through higher wages. Now we have returned to what what was the norm in the 19th century, where those improvements have benefited the investors rather than workers.


Also, porn.


The City of Five Smells is a random spot to be looking for insight into the future, but that is something I appreciate!

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My mom found an old video tape of a community access tv that I was on in 1982, as a seven year old “whiz kid” explaining how to program an Apple II. I always enjoy sharing it on nostalgic threads like this, purely for the awesome theme music and intro. Also, it reminds us that “Knight Rider” predicated self-driving smart cars.


If you traveled back in time to 1979 and told them about modern day computers you’d just blow them away. Or it would get you committed.

In 1979, we were using the school board’s HP2000 after-hours to play multi-player space games, chat, mail, news posts…

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It would go something like this perhaps?

Me from 2018: Hey everyone my time machine worked!

Everyone in 1979: Cool dude! What’s the future like? Flying cars? Jetpacks? Billionaires on Mars?

Me from 2018: Uh, well sorta… our cars run on electrons and can almost drive themselves but often smash into stopped or squishy things.

Everyone in 1979: Whoa! Gnarly! So like jetpacks too?

Me from 2018: Uh no… except for massive electric octocopter experiments… no, not octopuses… octopi?

Everyone in 1979: So dude who is president?

Me from 2018: Well, everyone has a computer/phone fondleslab that they carry in their pocket that is always on and connected to the information superhighway (wink!) And it so happens that we’ve elected a actor or gameshow host: twice! Ronald Reagan was elected in…

Everyone in 1979: No way dude! That washed up B actor/failed governor? You musta had some bad acid.

Me from 2018: But wait it gets even worse! Russia f!d around with our last election along with the FBI screwing over the best woman presidential candidate yet, so instead racists and asshats elected Donald Trump as our President (possibly for life!) All because of our fondleslabs!

Everyone in 1979: Whoa you are insane, I’m using my new push button phone to summon the police and medical dudes right now. Let me look that up in my Yellow Pages here (flip flip flip). Uh, no (flip flip)

Me from 2018: No you gotta believe me, I aint going back there! The tweets! The racist bs! Its everywhere!

Everyone in 1979: Maybe we should just smoke this and relax and put on some Floyd?

Me from 2018: We do have yotabillionaires who want to escape to Mars…

Everyone in 1979: Did Bill or Steve put you up to this? This is getting silly.


Deja vu all over again. I stopped in that very computer store in the spring of 1980 while on a cross-country drive and bought up a stack of back issues of Byte magazine to complete my collection. Even then finding a ‘real’ computer shop was something of a rarity outside of tech-centric areas of the country.


If 1979 guy was really being prophetic:

“In the future, pornography will be sent directly into the homes of people! For free”


1979 was a few years before porn would no longer be confined to shops in the crappy part of town, but in every American living room on VCRs.

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I think this fine young gentlemen had a much better grasp at the time.


The 3 day work week sounds like a blogger. :slight_smile:


I heard that man use a word that isn’t one.