Archive for February 16th, 2010

Back to the future

by Toby Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

As someone that works in the field of history, it’s perhaps no secret that a time machine would come in handy every now and then. Looking through the Local History Archive, I saw headlines from 1985 that dealt with the economy, and terrorists in the Middle East that could have just as easily been printed last week. More telling perhaps were the ads for appliances and cars and how the prices had changed in the last 25 years; some going up, while others had come down. Automobile prices were noticeably lower with a new Honda Civic, four-door Sedan costing under $8,000, while a Ford Ranger pickup truck was just over $6,000.

Food prices were strangely similar, but microwave ovens – something new – were expensive, as even basic units cost more than $200, with some of the larger devices coming in at over $500.

Home entertainment was also costly, with new Video Cassette Recorders ranging between $375 and $800. The higher end models could be programmed up to two weeks in advance and would record as many as four different television programs. Video rental services were something new and many of the local electronic stores offered you rentals if you purchased your VCR from them. National chains like Blockbuster were just getting started and wouldn’t come to Fort Collins for a few years yet. A 40-inch, big screen television would take up a lot of real-estate in your living room with a depth of about two and half feet.

If music was more to your liking, you could purchase a new compact disk player for $200. The disks were comparable to today’s pricing, falling somewhere between $10 and $20 apiece. Of course in 1985 CDs were only for music and wouldn’t be used for computer data storage for quite some time. Home computing was still in its infancy in 1985, and your storage options were strictly magnetic, including cassette tapes and floppy disks. I remember loading up a computer game onto my Texas Instruments TI 99/4A, off of an old cassette recorder. The process usually started before dinner, with one half of the program loading while I ate; afterward, a quick flip of the cassette would see the other half of the program load up while the dishes were being done. If all went according to plan, the rest of the evening would be spent playing an exciting text-based adventure; at the time, graphics were still pretty rudimentary.

That would also begin to change in 1985 with the introduction of the Amiga home computer from Commodore. 1985 also saw the first Nintendo Entertainment System introduced to American households, a big improvement over the blocky images of the Atari 2600. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the old Atari games especially Adventure, although I’m still pretty sure that dragon was really just a big duck.

Microsoft’s first version of a Windows-based interface for IBM PC compatible computers became a reality in 1985. Apple also unveiled its first Macintosh Computer System and the notion of desktop publishing. How new was the notion of being able to do the things that many of us take for granted these days? Here’s a sample of a local newspaper ad, “Of the 23 million people living in America, only a fraction know how to use a computer. Which is why Apple invented Macintosh. A personal computer so powerful, it’s incredibly simple to use. Because you control everything just by pointing a palm-sized controller called a “mouse”. Whether you’re working with numbers, words or pictures. If you know how to point, you already know how to use Macintosh.” Interestingly enough, the price point for a Mac in 1985 was a little over $2000, while a copy of Microsoft windows retailed for about a $100. Both pretty close to the asking price of an Apple iMac, or a copy of Windows7, today.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

February 2010

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