Being in the Information Technology business, I have a bunch of sort of nerdy friends (oddly, some of them would describe me the same way). As a rule, when we get together we often talk about the sorts of things that people think techie people talk about – web sites, cool applications, project we are working on, and of course Star Trek (original version, the movies and occasionally TNG).
A while ago some friends and I were talking about the first computers we owned or used. One used a Commodore 64, someone else used the TRS-80 sold by Radio Shack. It was interesting to consider how far these devices have come in 30 or so years, how ubiquitous they are now and how integral they have become to our everyday lives.
I had been thinking that the first computer I used was a mainframe at university where I used punch cards to enter the programs, but on the weekend another thought occurred to me. I was listening to a radio broadcast about iconic brands that mentioned the Etch A Sketch, and I was thinking that surely the Etch A Sketch was as iconic in it’s day as my iPad tablet is now. And long before I bought my first iPad, before my first laptop, even before my first home computer, the first personal tablet-type device I ever owned was an Etch A Sketch.
While it didn’t have a touch screen, it also didn’t have a keyboard, and you couldn’t type on it even if you wanted to. It had a graphical user interface.
It had two knobs that let you draw or write, one that moved the cursor vertically, and one that moved it horizontally. I recall that the original patent application for the computer mouse (actually called an “X-Y position indicator for a display system”) was a wooden shell with 2 wheels that marked horizontal and vertical positions on a graphic display.
It wasn’t able to store and retrieve the image I created, although when I did a particularly good one I put the Etch A Sketch on the shelf like a picture frame so that nobody would accidentally erase it. There are now artists who work using Etch A Sketches and they have figured out a way to make the image permanent, although it does require taking the device apart.
And while the image that was created wasn’t actually an electronic image but rather a physical once, it sure felt pretty high-tech when I was a kid.
And what other kid’s toy has an tech support FAQ? http://www.skrause.org/humor/etch.shtml
Sounds like a real computer to me…