If you like retro tech stuff (like me) and pop culture nostalgia (like me) then you will love (like I did) listening to a record that recently came to my attention: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Home Computers.
Released in 1983, this LP was narrated by Steve Allen (the original host of The Tonight Show) and his wife, actress Jayne Meadows. It was meant to introduce the average Joe to the wonders of using a computer and to demystify this new fangled technology. It came with an illustrated instruction booklet, a practice computer keyboard and a glossary of computer terminology.
You can still find copies of it for sale, or you can listen to it by downloading an MP3 version of it, made a few years ago by Andy Baio. I went ahead and listened to it and, from Allen’s goofy schtick to Meadows’ over-proper pronunciations, it’s pure gold. It’s well worth 39 minutes of your time, IMO.
But, if you actually have better things to do with those 39 minutes, here’s a rundown of what the record covers and some of the highlights:
Anyone can use a computer
"We want to convince you that computers are not mysterious and forbidding. Anyone can learn to operate one, can learn computer programming and furthermore this can be learned at any age."
"The contents of RAM can be cleared, emptied and changed at will. It’s like your food freezer, the contents of which are protected from loss only as long as the freezer is turned on. Just as you can buy a big freezer to store more food, you can enlarge the amount of RAM in your computer."
"Some computers come with a TV built-in with a screen that shows up in black and white or sometimes green and white…. For computers with no built-in TV, it’s common practice to just hook it up to the antenna of your home TV set."
How to buy a computer
"You might, for example, start with a very basic computer with just a few K of RAM. Some computers of this type are available for as little as $100."
"Because computers have few moving parts, maintenance is really not much of a consideration."
"It’s a popular misconception that you have to be a math wizard to program a computer. Nothing could be further from the truth. You could spend a lifetime writing programs and not once need or use mathematics."
Good, right? You betcha.
This record was nominated for a Grammy award (let that sink in) in 1984 in the Best Spoken Word or Nonmusical Recording category (losing out to William Warfield for his dramatic readings of Abraham Lincoln’s great documents in Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait). The record was such a success, in fact, that Allen and Meadows followed it up with a VHS version called Computability, which you can also watch on Baio’s site. That, too, is worth checking out, though it’s longer at 54 minutes.
Great stuff, on many levels. Let’s close out with Allen’s concluding remarks from the record:
"So, come on board. We’re ready to take off into the new computer age that’s going to blast us into a future that’s limited only by our minds and our imaginations."
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