the founding of apple computer -- 5/18/17

Today's encore selection -- from America in the '70s by Edited by Beth Bailey & David Farber. By 1970, Americans who thought deeply about technology did so with anxiety, since it was associated with the cold-war military industrial complex, large corporations, and "big brother." Then technology gurus like Ted Nelson began to see computers as having the potential to "recast politics, society, and culture" and viewed it as "up to the people to wrest control of this transformation from the corporate, militarized, technical priesthood." It was against this background that the Homebrew Computer Club was founded, and Apple Computer was formed. And, since computers could actually do very little, what reason did the founders of Apple give to people for buying its products? Well ... so "that you and your family increase familiarity with the computer itself":

"[Apple Computer came out of the milieu created by the] Homebrew Computer Club, the famous electronics and computer hobbyists club in the San Francisco Bay Area during the middle 1970s. ...

"The center of attention in Homebrew meetings during the middle years of the 1970s was the MITS Altair 8800, first released in 1975 and available by mail order from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Generally regarded as the first personal computer (PC), the Altair is completely unrecognizable as a usable machine today. In addition to its internal electronics, the entire system consisted of a case and a series of toggle switches and light bulbs on the front panel -- no keyboard, no screen, no disk drive. Programs had to be entered as individual binary numbers by flipping the switches on the front; the only evidence that the program had done its job was a change in which bulbs were lit. And best of all, after it arrived in the mail, you had to break out your screwdriver, pliers -- and, more than likely, your ohm meter and soldering iron -- and put it together yourself. ...

"Personal computing would have remained a hobbyist's passion were it not for the gradual infusion of computer-liberation culture. It was an easy match. As a group, Homebrewers had a generally antiestablishment streak. Steve Wozniak, one half of the founding duo of Apple Computer, initially became widely known within Homebrew as a maker of 'blue boxes' -- small electronic devices that emitted push-button telephone tones and permitted making free phone calls, breaking into existing conversations, and other phone phreaking." ...

"It is no surprise, therefore, that the computer partnership between Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs began at Homebrew. Although they had met through a mutual friend a few years earlier, their interest in making computers together stemmed from Homebrew meetings in early 1975, the height of Altair mania. Wozniak, a hobbyist at heart, was transfixed by the possibilities of owning his own computer. Jobs, four years younger than Wozniak and impatient with the 'nit-picking technical debates' among Homebrewers, was a devotee of suburban Bay Area Marxism and disciple of computer liberation. With visions of putting computing power into individual hands and living rooms, and confident (mistakenly, at least at first) that there was a latent market that could put it there, Jobs cajoled Wozniak into marketing a computer kit that would rival the Altair. They marketed the kit under the name Apple Computer in 1976. ...

"After studying the European-styled toasters and mixers in the kitchen department at Macy's in San Francisco, Jobs decided that he wanted a smooth, curved, plastic case for the [next iteration,] Apple II. The result was an elegant and inviting design that would thereafter become the artifactual signature of Apple computers.

"[Young venture capitalist Mike] Markkula and Jobs were the principal choreographers of the Apple II's debut in 1977 at the first West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco. The now-storied Faire, which was organized largely by Homebrew members, had an atmosphere that was a cross between a trade show and a Star Trek convention; the silent 'e' in 'Faire' was instantly familiar to the techie aficionados of 'Dungeons & Dragons' and the Bay Area Renaissance Faire. ... The machine's debut print ad was a two-page spread depicting a husband sitting at the kitchen table with his Apple II and a cup of coffee, his wife chopping vegetables in the background and looking over her shoulder at him with a smile. The text on the opposite page opened with the banner, 'The home computer that's ready to work, play and grow with you.' The copy promised, 'You don't even need to know a RAM from a ROM to use and enjoy Apple II .... You can begin running your Apple II the first evening, entering your own instructions and watching them work, even if you've had no previous computer experience.'

"But why own one? You could, according to the ad, use it to help your children do schoolwork, organize household finances or recipes, or 'chart your biorhythms.' But the ad proclaimed that 'the biggest benefit -- no matter how you use Apple II -- is that you and your family increase familiarity with the computer itself.' The computer-enhanced future was here, and you needed to be part of it."




Beth Bailey & David Farber


America in the Seventies (Culture America)


University Press of Kansas


Copyright 2004 by the University Press of Kansas


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