That ’70s Show: the Conference That Predicted the Future of Work

theodp writes: Over at Wired, Leslie Berlin writes about Futures Day at the 1977 Xerox World Conference, an invitation-only demonstration of the Alto personal computer system developed at Xerox PARC. It’s an excerpt from Troublemakers: How a Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented the Future. Both Berlin’s book and Brian Dear’s recent The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture are shedding light on groundbreaking systems of the ’70s that were ultimately done in by the less-featured but low-cost Apple II (yes, $2,638 for a system with 48 kB of RAM was ‘low cost’!) and other personal computers. Interestingly, Dear notes that the Xerox Parc and PLATO teams sent people out to see and learn and exchange ideas with each other over the years. Their interactions included ‘tremendous battles’ over the advantages and disadvantages of mouse interfaces [Xerox] vs. touch screens [PLATO], as well as plasma displays [PLATO] vs. other, cheaper display solutions [Xerox]. As is the case with many debates, both teams proved to be “right.” Apple wouldn’t introduce the masses to a mouse interface until 1984 [Macintosh] and a touch screen interface until 2007 [iPhone].


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