Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

21 and Up: A Snapshot of Computer History

I recently turned twenty-one years old, which is a bit of a milestone in the United States. Many hours were spent thinking about how old I had become and how I could relate my new found age to this blog. Occasionally my academic path and my interest in technology intersect; today we will be going over a snapshot of technology history. Imagine what it would be like buying your first computer when I was born – the year 1993. How different would the technology look compared to what we can buy today? Not only is it a challenging question but its answer can show how far technology has come – in only twenty one years.

Let’s say then that we have warped back to the 1990s more specifically 1993. We would hear Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and The Proclaimers “I would walk (500 miles)” on the radio, watch Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen play on the Chicago Bulls, and be able to see Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in theaters. We could even use the phrase “I rented a VHS from Blockbuster but we have to rewind it first” and everyone would understand. What is most surprising about computers from this time period is how familiar they would appear. The basic set up from that era and today is the same with computers using a monitor, tower, mouse and keyboard (laptops were also available in 1993). Scratching the mouse around on mouse pad to get wake up the computer would reveal an operating system that, while not as stylish as today’s, would not be completely unusable. Operating a computer though, would feel profoundly slow. Modern solid-state drive (SSD) computers can go from off to ready to use in seconds, while a Macintosh in 1993 would take almost a minute. Word processing was available as was the Internet although most people were using dial-up. Operating computer has not changed much overall but technologically 1993 and today are worlds different.

If you went to buy a Macintosh in 1993 you would probably pay around two thousand dollars. Adjusted for inflation that would be around thirty three hundred in today’s money. Computers were not exactly inexpensive. What you would get with your money would be about four or eight (depending on the model) megabytes of RAM, and a five hundred megabyte hard drive (there were options for as low as eighty megabytes). All of this was driven by a twenty megahertz processor. The monitors at the time were monochrome, cathode ray tube (CRT) just like the televisions of the 1990s. CRT monitors are bulky, extremely heavy and have the advantage of being able to be heard before the picture can be seen. An iPhone 6 has two hundred and fifty six times more memory (on hundred and twenty eight gigabytes), one hundred and twenty five times more RAM (one gigabyte) and is a phone, not a computer. We carry around in our pockets a device that is more power than fifteen computers of 1993, and yet we do not even think of it as a computer.

Being twenty-one makes me feel old and when I started looking at computers of the 1990s I felt even older. The performance machines of that time are children compared to the average smart phone. What used to be too heavy, too hot and too unstable to even move off our desks, now sits comfortably in our pockets. For computers the 1990s are an strange time. A decade that was not different enough to be foreign, but not modern enough to feel familiar.

One of the hardest parts of maintaining a hotel is often the in room televisions. When a television matches what we believe is current we often won’t notice it, yet when it is too old, it becomes an eyesore. Thus the hotel owner faces a problem. The speed at which our technology advances is enough to make even five year old televisions seem obsolete. The same is true of computers, where often using a computer that is five or six years old will seem insufferable. The hotel owner has a choice, either buy new televisions or accept his rooms will appear dated. Not much can make a twenty one year old college student feel old but when I look back at what was normal the year I was born, I cant help but want to shake a little dust out of my bones.



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