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Technology & Innovation

A New York Times Article from 1985 Deemed the Consumer Laptop a Failure

The author of a now 30-year-old article thought he was writing the obituary of the laptop computer. Such wrongness makes you wonder what current underrated technology could be compared to the once-maligned laptop.

Just to prove that not all of us can be Nostradamus, a 1985 article in The New York Times has recently popped up on social media and let’s just say it’s not the most prescient piece of journalism ever published. In fact, this nearly 30-year-old article more or less deemed the laptop computer dead in the water:

“Was the laptop dream an illusion, then? Or was the problem merely that the right combination of features for such lightweight computers had not yet materialized? The answer probably is a combination of both views. For the most part, the portable computer is a dream machine for the few.

The limitations come from what people actually do with computers, as opposed to what the marketers expect them to do. 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. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so.”

We shouldn’t fault the author of the article for lacking the foresight to predict modern day cloud computing or anticipate the oncoming smart-device revolution. But the above (as with the rest of the article’s contents) certainly read like words to be eaten. The part of it that gets me is this piece reflects what was no doubt a shared opinion about a technology thought stalled like an old jalopy. That opinion, of course, was proven wrong.

But since time is nothing but a flat circle, it makes you wonder what sort of technology today we’re being far too bearish about. Is there any sort of business or consumer innovation society has given up on? My guess is that it may be wearable technology, especially after the unceremonious gutting of the Google Glass project. Perhaps we’ll one day laugh at Google’s decision while watching re-runs of SNL on our computer glasses.

Then again, this may be a take so dumb that it’ll be highlighted a generation from now as shortsighted and wrong.

You can read the whole piece at The New York Times and see for yourself how time exists as the great illumination.

Photo credit:Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock

(h/t Benedict Evans)


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