The Atlantic

I Wrote This on a 30-Year-Old Computer

And it was awesome.
Source: Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Everything about this computer is loud: The groan of the power supply is loud. The hum of the cooling fan is loud. The whir of the hard disk is loud. The clack of the mechanical keyboard is loud. It’s so loud I can barely think, the kind of noise I usually associate with an airline cabin: whoom, whoom, whoom, whoom.

This is the experience a computer user would have had every time she booted up her Macintosh SE, a popular all-in-one computer sold by Apple from 1987 to 1990. By today’s standards the machine is a dinosaur. It boasts a nine-inch black-and-white display. Mine came with a hard disk that offers 20 megabytes of storage, but some lacked even that luxury. And the computer still would have cost a fortune: The version I have retailed for $3,900, or about $8,400 in 2019 dollars.

That’s a lot of money. It’s one of the reasons why computers weren’t as universal three decades ago as they are today, especially at home. In 1984, when the Macintosh first appeared, about 8 percent of U.S. homes had a computer; five years later, when the computer I’m writing on was sold, that figure had risen to a whopping 15 percent.

That made for a totally different relationship to the machine than we have today. Nobody used one

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