The Design History of Computing

I have an ongoing interest in the design history of computing and our relationship with computing technology. I am not so concerned with the actual technology of computing, but with the changing physical design of computers over time, and how this relates to the way we perceive and relate to computers as social and cultural artefacts. My writings on the history of computing are an attempt to trace this relationship. You can read abstracts of my books and articles on this subject by clicking on the links below.

The Ghost in the Machine

In April 1991, almost 20 years before the launch of Apple's iPad, the cover of Personal Computer World proudly displayed a completely new category of computing product - a tablet computer called the 'GO PC' .... This was to be the future of computing. There is only one problem with this story. GO was a ghost, a piece of vapourware; it was a fleeting, tantalising glimpse of a machine that never materialised. More...

computer

Computer

The computer has in many respects become so common that it largely disappears from view. Originally a room-sized, esoteric, carefully-tended machine, breeding fear, awe and respect, over the years it has decreased in size, and with the rise of the personal computer it has now become a prosaic appliance little-more noted than a toaster or vacuum-cleaner. More...

curious case

The Curious Case of the Kitchen Computer

The Honeywell Kitchen Computer is described in a number of places as a curiosity - a futuristic computer product that never sold. In fact, the Kitchen Computer was merely a publicity stunt, a spoof, continuing a long line of fantasy gifts offered by the up-market American department store Neiman Marcus. More...

bitter pill

A Bitter Pill to Swallow

The first tablet computers appeared at the end of the 1980s, and generated a huge amount of interest and serious amounts of investment. The tablet computer was seen to be the device everyone would want to use. Yet, in the space of just a few years, the tablet computer and the notion of pen computing sank almost without trace. More...

best laid plans

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Despite a well documented history of the computer mouse, its consumption does not appear to have been addressed. How did people react to it at first? Why did it take so long to become a mass-produced item? How did it become the single most accepted interface technology? What did the mouse represent, and what does it represent today? More...

man in a briefcase

Man in a Briefcase

Design discourse presented the laptop computer as the result of 'inevitable' technological progress, creating an unprecedented, revolutionary product. This article shows that the social drive for the development of portable computing came from the 'macho mystique' of concealed technology that was a substantial motif in popular culture at that time. More...

(in)difference engine

The (In)Difference Engine

At the time of writing there is a clear perception of all office computers as being more or less identical. This article shows how previous forms of the computer, inspired by science fiction, gender roles and status, have been systematically replaced by a 'universal' design informed only by the nondescript, self-referential world of office equipment. More...

computer memories

Computer Memories

This paper looks at the computer as a truly global form. The similar beige boxes found in offices across the world are analysed from the perspective of design history rather than that of the history of science and technology, examining the changes that have occurred in the production and consumption of the computer in the context of the workplace. More...

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