Sir Clive Sinclair, the British computer pioneer, died this week. He was an innovator whose ZX line of personal computers had a dramatic influence on public uptake of the technology in the early 1980s.
The first computer I ever owned was a Sinclair ZX-81. I even wrote about my experiences with it in my new book.
I picked it up in the autumn of 1981, a year after moving to a small town in the hinterlands beyond London. The ZX81 still sits on my bookshelf at home. It has the foot- print of a 7-inch record sleeve and is about as deep as your index and middle fingers. Compared to the other electronic items in early-1980s living rooms – the vacuum-tubed television or large cassette deck – the ZX81 was compact and light. Pick-up-with-your-thumb-and-forefinger light. The built-in keyboard, unforgiving and taut when pressed, wasn’t something you could type on. It only responded to stiff, punctuated jabs of the kind you might use to admonish a friend.
I posted a picture of the device on Twitter.
The ZX81 represents a key aspect of an exponential technology. It only took a decade for these devices to go from clumsy playthings to key fixtures in offices and homes. In 1981, there were fewer than 2,000,000 personal computers in the world, a decade later closer to 60,000,000. A decade after that more than half a billion. As performance spiralled upwards, prices rose (but not as fast). Price: performance dramatically increased and with it the utility of these devices. The market grew at a compounded annual rate of 31% for those 20 years, creating complementary industries (games, productivity software, operating systems, IT consulting and more).
For today’s discussion, cast your mind back to the first time you used a computer. When was it? Which one was it? What did you feel at the time? What did you do with it? How did it inspire you?
Have a thoughtful Friday!
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