1985 NYT column denounces laptops


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The TRS-80 model pictured there was in use by certain members of the press for YEARS after most of the public abandoned them. I worked for a newspaper in the mid-90s and reporters (one of the most tech-shy groups of people in the world) were still using TRS-80 “laptops” and modems to send in stories. So the picture is funny in so many ways to me personally.


From the article:

On the whole, people don't want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper.

Well, they solved that problem, didn’t they? :slight_smile:


What is slightly chilling is that the attitude toward technology seems far less alien than the theory that the desire, or lack thereof, of the human resources to bring work with them will determine whether or not they end up bringing work with them.

It’s still true that an airplane environment makes drinking far more pleasant than attempting to work; but that’s not really a relevant factor.

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I would have, I dunno, gotten a pen, paper, envelope and postage and written a “letter to the editor” to that publication had I read that in 1985. About how portable tech was here to stay and that as soon as I got a little bit stronger I would take my hand-me-down Kaypro 10 with me everywhere I went!

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I really thought it would be by John C. Dvorak.


I don’t think the author could have easily predicted the cheap, but superb dicking around machines that laptops and their ilk would eventually become.


My favorite prediction was from some long-forgotten writer who ranted about how stupid computer mice were because, like many people (including myself) who’d been taught to type in high school by instructors who were oriented toward creating typists for secretarial pools, he was taught never to take his hands off the “home row” (ASFDGHJKL;) and just couldn’t adapt to a new paradigm. (The old paradigm, meant to create typists who had the highest word-per-minute rate that they could possibly squeeze out, led to countless typists and legions of their programmer brethren getting repetitive stress injury from staying on the keyboard for hours at a time.)


You know, aside from his snark, most of the article was right. He was complaining laptops didn’t do certain things - but they didn’t become ubiquitous until they started doing those very things.

Except the part about the floppy disk.


Obviously, the utility of having a pointing device won out; but this consideration lives on in a small way in the skirmishes between benighted touchpad users and enlightened trackpoint users. With the pointing device right there, betweeh G, H, and B, you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard to get to it.

Neither is a match for a proper mouse; but when all you have is a laptop, and not necessarily any room to use a mouse, it counts.


It’s not necessary that startups trick themselves into believing some new immature tech has a market. It’s only necessary that they trick their investors into this belief.

Of course when a big company falls prey to that sort of self-deception there is no such explanation; and that does happen quite frequently. Still a substantial percentage of new tech flops really were successes for their founders; just not the kind of success you might think.

People are mocking this article? Instead of mocking the people that paid $4K in 1980s dollars to use one of these clunkers? Early adopters: What a bunch of maroons.


I agree. The author repeatedly cited that displays and lack of software were the main issues, and once that was addressed, there would be more of a market. I really don’t see much to mock here.


Like given for using favorite mst3k line. Carry on.

But the real future of the laptop computer will remain in the specialized niche markets. Because no matter how inexpensive the machines become, and no matter how sophisticated their software, I still can’t imagine the average user taking one along when going fishing.

This calls for a Google Search.

There, there, that wasn’t so hard, was it?


The only thing worse than the mouse is the “desktop”!

My oldest is one of these mauxfauxs:

which I hope to rebuild sometime.


I want one of these so badly.

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Ahhh…the TRS-80 Model 100.

I used one of these as late as 2008. A fantastic and rugged machine for writing - getting the data off was slightly challanging at first, but for a no-distraction writing machine, they absoultely rocked.

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My first laptop was an otherwise really terrible Packard Bell that suffered from an exploding capacitor that fried the motherboard and LCD, as did its replacement. (After the second one I got a refund and went for a Toshiba instead.)

But this P-B had the greatest laptop pointing device ever: a “J” key that tilted to move the cursor. It was glorious. The left/right click buttons were well positioned just below the spacebar, if I remember right. The overall look and feel was of controlling the pointer telepathically, and the action didn’t even mess up the feel of typing the letter “J” enough to care about.

I’ve wished for a keyboard that would do that ever since.