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The Need for Speed: A Commentary on the Evolution of Computing Power

I remember the days when things moved at a steadier pace. Not that I am that old but I fondly remember how waiting for the next big thing was always an exciting experience. I remember waiting, in my pre-teen years, for my Evil Kneivel doll with bike and launch pad.

I had it picked out six months before Christmas and the bike I had picked had rockets that threw sparks out when the bike was moving. There was a mood set once I had decided on my next big Christmas gift and all summer I begged to get it early but it never happened.  I would dream up scenarios for my toy, tricks it could perform and ramps that I could build and I watched in envy because Ian Anderton, who lived across the road, already had one and could make it do some amazing things.

When Christmas arrived I could not wait for my toys and couldn’t open them quick enough to get to the one I really wanted. I look back on it fondly.

A couple of years later I had the same longing for a toy, a gadget, my first home computer – a ZX81 But ever since that time, around 1978 or 1979 things changed. The dawn of a new era had arrived and that was computers…….for the masses.

Suddenly, it seems even now that the world had woken up. We could do things from our bedrooms and offices that were previously impossible. We could type, print, play, design, animate, and program. Everything became easier and of course faster. But the world changed in other ways too. Businesses could function more efficiently and require fewer people to do the same amount of work. They streamlined and became ever more speedy.

But it seems speed is what we all craved and so developers and manufacturers went on to create a myriad of faster, better computers and gadgets, from calculators to gaming machines, and the more the consumer wanted the more they would be catered to.

Along came mobile phones. The handheld bricks that arrived in 1984 played an important part in enhancing a person’s freedom. Now technology was allowing everyone to communicate without being tied to a desk, a living room, or building and suddenly we began to feel liberated. But with that liberation came another consumer-driven demand.

Companies very nearly had the mobile workforce but what were they without their Filofax and filing cabinet? The answer to the prayers of a million businessmen were answered. Along came the PDA.

The Personal Digital Assistant was an instant hit. You could carry your Filofax and your office documentation around with you, quite literally 24 hours of the day. The “yuppies” had long since gone and in their place arrived the demi-gods of the modern world. Geeks.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had long since established their empires and both of them needed faster computers to run their OS’s as the public demanded a better experience while sitting at their computers, and with each successive release of their software faster computers were required.

Manufacturers of computer hardware were obliged to increase the power and usefulness of their components, a) to keep up with demand and b) in competition with other companies that were aiming to have the fastest components on the planet. In the background a number of mobile phone manufacturers were producing phones that were removing the need for the PDA. Increasing memory sizes and speedier processors allowed for phones to almost take the place of PDAs and that market began to suffer as a result.

Suddenly we all had to power to communicate. We could SMS, call or if you were lucky enough, email from your handset. Give feedback to ideas online and make a contribution to our own increasingly complicated lives. Our liberation in the modern sense is almost complete.

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  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    With all due respect…
    This article comes across as a tad bit ignorant and not very well thought out. Sure, it was good at creating some sort of introspect,but, the author failed to mention that this type of global mentality has been going on since the Wright Brothers and, quite possibly, before them. Granted, he is right about consumer demand but there has been times where something better (maybe not faster) had been manufactured and the consumer didn’t bite (BETA,Laser Disc,SACD,Blu-Ray Audio). You have to realize that as fast as this progression may seem, the US is still 5 years behind Japan in terms of technology. So, they are working on things before we realize it. Just my opinion…

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    *BTW* – My point was that things aren’t so out of control as it may seem

  • http://www.thiscouldbegood.co.uk ianjolley

    Thanks Brian. I agree that the “mentality” mentioned is older than the scope of this article but this article talks about the progress and development of that mindset since the introduction of home computers.

    I appreciate your comments though and would love to hear and see more.