The Computer As An Auto

I am a computer hobbyist. This is neither good nor bad – just a fact of life. I’ve been attracted to them since my first touch of a keyboard in high school circa 1967. This computer I’m typing on, and the one next to it, were built on my floor from parts – some ordered for the projects, others that I had lying around.

I remember my friend Jerry Emdur in Cherry Hill, NJ, who owned an Imsai 8080, a very early personal computer. It really couldn’t do anything – but it was very cool.

For years, I have subscribed to Computer Shopper. It was, at one time, the great builder magazine, published every month. I used to feel guilty when the mailman delivered it. It was heavy as a brick and as thick as the Manhattan Yellow Pages… OK, almost as thick.

Back then the ads were for little specialty houses. Some sold custom built computers, others components. There were even actual designers and manufacturers selling down at the retail level. All these people knew we were on to something that would be big. They all wanted to be involved.

I’m not sure if he advertised in Computer Shopper back then, but this was the age when people like Michael Dell could start a company in his college dorm, correspond to customers via CompuServe – and sell a PC to my friend Peter in New Jersey.

Dell is huge, but so many of those companies are no longer around. It’s very sad.

Today, the Computer Shopper is a shadow of its former self. I just got a 166 page issue today. If I remember correctly, they were often 10 times that size. There are more articles, or at least they stand out more without the deluge of ads. Most of the editorial content is how to and hobbyist, versus business, oriented stories.

Missing are the page upon page of ads. Often they were long lists in tiny type of things I just had to have – but wasn’t going to get just yet.

I suspect most of those companies failed during the dot com bust. Many have probably just moved to EBay, where the cost of doing business is much lower.

I miss the ads.

Hey, this isn’t TV. I’m not getting a random mix of adult diaper and Viagra spots. These were targeted ads for products I was interested in. And, I figured the more ads, the more non-advertising content. That wasn’t necessarily true.

The problem with this kind of magazine today is that computers are commodities. You get one right off the line. They’re made to be mass produced. You can buy off-the-shelf hardware that’s fast enough for any application and buy it for less than you’ll pay to build it yourself!

I won’t be surprised if some day soon my ability to build my own machine is taken away, victim of digital rights management or some other tough to control power of the PC. When it’s just an appliance, in every sense of the word, I’ll feel we’ve lost something.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *