A reconstruction of computing history

03 Jul

Hi! I’m a time-travelling archeologist from the 25th Century. For centuries we’ve been struggling to understand the mess that were the 20th and early 21st centuries based on archeological digs and archaic storage devices, but we were only just starting to piece things together when some clever twit invented the time machine. So I’m here to share some of our theories before I explore your century to see how accurate we were.

What fascinates me the most is the evolution of computing. It all seemed to happen within such a short time period that it’s been a real challenge to get a consensus on the sequence of innovations. So far, here is a rough sketch of what seems to make the most sense:

  • The first computers used very basic inputs like punched cards, didn’t output to any display (only more paper), and took an enormous amount of space. I guess you had to start somewhere.
  • You then started using smaller components, including memory storage, and even added some rudimentary input devices.
  • Someone then invented the Screen. We’ve found billions of those, we know they were popular for quite a while. All input was done using fingers (tapping and dragging, we guess) on a glass surface. It must have been very tedious and time-consuming.
  • Judging by the number of these Screens we found, these must have been the main form of computing for most of the studied period, perhaps close to 50 years. Not much technological progress was made.
  • Some genius (it could only have been a genius, or maybe someone who discovered that typewriters had some merit even in the age of computing) then invented the keyboard! Attached to the screen, it was now possible to enter text directly in the computer without having to tap-tap-tap on a no-feedback, software-based input interface. Creativity and literacy must have reached new heights in those days!
  • Another genius finally invented the Pointing Input Device (PID). It was then finally possible to see clearly what was displayed on the screen below the pointing device (previously someone’s oversized index finger!). Even more revolutionary, it allowed for a complex array of interactions between the PID and the Keyboard. This must have been the heyday of computer programmers, graphic design artists and other creative professions in the computing world!
  • With these three components (Screen, Keyboard and PID), the age of Computing had reached its apogee, and even today in the 25th century these three basic components have remained the very definition of a Computer.

As I type this on my Computer’s Keyboard, I get this wonderful feeling of familiarity as I see my words appear on this rustic Screen. Even the animalistic-shaped PID sitting on the desk looks vaguely familiar and quaint.

Now, I can’t wait to see how accurate this timeline is. My colleagues will be green with envy when I come back with the evidence!

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Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Musings


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