A brief history of personal computing
By Jacobo Tarrío
August 17, 2014

People think that personal computing is something completely new, and that PDAs, smartphones, and the like are recent inventions. However, the history of humankind is very long, and there are ancient precursors to very modern things. For example, since the dawn of time, humans have used their fingers to count, add, and subtract numbers, which is a clear example of digital computing. In addition, the ancient Sumerians are renowned for using tablets to write and do their bookkeeping, and the Romans used a stylus to write on a small handheld pad.

Speaking about the Romans, they used a numeric system that wasn’t very useful for making calculations. It was hard to learn the times tables, and in particular most kids had trouble with the table of VII. Eventually Europe adopted the Arabic numerals, which brought with them the digit ‘zero’. This was important later on as it allowed computers to use zeros and ones instead of only ones, which would have been a bit impractical.

Arithmetic operations such as multiplication were now easier with Arabic numerals, but still could take a long time to perform if there’s a lot of digits. To solve this, Napier invented logarithms, which served mainly as an excuse to be allowed to look the solution up in a book instead of having to memorize the times tables.

The slide rule, which works thanks to the power of logarithms (get it?), was carried in a shirt pocket by nerds everywhere until the 70s, when the electronic pocket calculator was invented. This opened the path for even greater inventions and discoveries, such as that you could type 5318008 and reverse the calculator, and it would read BOOBIES.

Electronic computers were invented in the 40s to calculate artillery tables and simulate atomic explosions, because the most pressing need for all of humankind has always been a more efficient way to kill each other.

As time passed, those computers got smaller and smaller, until home computers were introduced in the 70s. Those computers had multicolor displays and multiple sound channels, so they were useful for playing videogames. In 1981 IBM introduced the personal computer, which was exactly like the home computers that preceded it except bigger, more expensive, less powerful, and without all the things that made home computers useful for gaming. In retrospect it becomes obvious that they weren’t after the home market, so they rejected the name “home computer” in favor of “personal computer”, but then it becomes hard to believe that they managed to sell even one to a person.

Around the same time, the Osborne 1 came out. The Osborne 1 was the first portable computer, though it was portable much like a beer keg is portable. It sold pretty well until the salesmen started saying stupid stuff like “and if you think this one is good, wait to see the next one that comes out next year at the same price!” If you’ve ever wondered why the CEO of Samsung always says that their latest telephone is their best telephone ever, that’s why.

In 1993 Apple released the Newton, which is considered the first modern Personal Digital Assistant. It was developed while Steve Jobs was not at Apple, so we are allowed to laugh at it with impunity. Many people say that it was created before its time; in fact, it had many problems. For example, it had a handwriting recognition system that often misread things with hilarious results. Unfortunately, funny websites about autocorrect mistakes had yet to be invented, so it was of no use to anyone, and it was canceled in 1998.

The Palm Pilot, which was released in 1996, was more successful, but eventually the company was sold to a larger company which, in a surprising turn of events, didn’t really know what to do with the brand and products, so it fizzled out.

During this time Nokia, Samsung, Ericsson, and other phone manufacturers sold several models of smartphones, but after Apple released the iPhone in 2007 everyone decided to just pretend those had never existed.

The iPhone was the best phone ever, with features so innovative that Android copied them years before they were introduced in iOS. Its first version was perfect, and each subsequent version was even perfecter, as it included features that theretofore had been completely unnecessary but since that moment became the bare minimum a self-respecting smartphone should have. The iPhone is, in other words, the pinnacle of human ingenuity, and this work shall always remain unsurpassed. Amen.

Other stories about “Web personal (2008-2015)”, “humor”, “A Brief History”.
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