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From the Vault: Computers are coming

By Staff | May 20, 2016

This is Small Business Week, and I can’t think of a better time to talk about the computer, the item that will become (has become?) the single most important tool in any business.

Computers are the wave of the future. Plain and simple. I feel it in my bones (and I’ve read it in the trade mags). Before the century is over (not that far off, by the way), every major business will have replaced the typewriter with the computer. That’s my prediction, anyway.

Already a startling number of businesses have gone computer. What you are reading now was typeset on a compugraphic typesetter, a remarkable, complicated, expensive and indispensable piece of machinery that photo-engraved the letters on a photographic paper.

In a recent column, syndicated columnist Sylvia Porter said she believes the computer industry will employ 1.3 million people by the end of the decade. I don’t see any doubt of that. She also said there were 750,000 people in the business at the start of the decade, which also is probably true.

The boom in the computer industry has already started because computers are being made cheaper and cheaper. An adequate home computer, complete with disk drive and printer, can be purchased now for about $600. That’s not your top line computer, but it will suffice for household chores, such as record-keeping and writing letters to friends and relatives, and will also provide children with an educational device.

Already in Rugby there are computers in the classrooms. The high school has a fair supply of them, and they own some, such as the Apple II-e, that are pretty good computers. The elementary schools have computers also. And students at all levels of the education spectrum are using them. The first grade classes at Ely Elementary share a computer between them. The students use the machines to learn new words, spelling, mathematics, and to learn how to think. There are also computers in the Balta and Wolford schools, and these, too, are used by a wide variety of students.

So children are being exposed to computers at very early ages. Many homes have computers, primarily as recreational toys, such as the Atari systems, which essentially act as home-video games. Some homes have more versatile computers that can be used as games or as tools. Many of the companies that offer these computers also make programs that are instructional devices disguised as games. All over the country children are being duped: They think they’re having a good time, when they’re learning.

Because children-mere children (and some of these kids are so good with them it is sickening- there’s nothing worse than a little snot nosed kid who can develop a program and find the square root of any given number before you’ve even gotten your pencil sharpened)-are being exposed to computers at home and at school, they will be already for the computer revolution, when it gets in full gear.

Oh it’s already started. You’ve gone to the phone company to complain about a bill and had them call up your telephone history on their computer. Perhaps you’ve been to LaBelle’s, where they keep their inventory on file and can let you know immediately if they have the item on stock or order. Certainly you’ve been to a grocery store where the check-out girls wave light reading pens across price-codes. And then there is the neighborhood bank that keeps track of your checks and deposits and probably has a better summary of your life than you could come up with. Not to mention federal agencies such as the IRS and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

George Orwell warned that Big Brother would be watching us by 1984. To some extent he is right. But computers have a vast capacity to do good, and it is with that capacity in mind that they will flourish in the education and business community. No typewriter can match the efficiency of a computer, and it is that efficiency which can now be provided at a relatively nominal cost that will make the computer the most important tool in business.

– From “Out of my mind”, by Peter B. Johnson, May 7, 1984

Retyped by Piper Laughridge

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