How the First Laptop Was Held Back by Its Humongous Price... And Sexism

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History remembers technology progressing at the speed of Moore's Law, galloping between semiconductors and clock speeds. But the real challenge has always been getting people to accept it into their lives. And as Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic reminds us, that has, from time to time, meant overcoming ingrained prejudices.

Here's the story: The GRiD Compass is by most accounts the world's first recognized laptop. It sold, in 1982, for $8150, which was a preposterous amount of money. (About $20,000 in today's dollars.) But it still sold anyway. And when it didn't, often it wasn't the price that was the sticking point. It was the social implication of doing your own typing.

Here was an example of the reasoning, according to Jeff Hawkins, who was there for the early sales pitches:

This is an amazing fact. We had this product. It was designed for business executives. And the biggest obstacle, one of the biggest obstacles, we had for selling the product was the fact — believe it or not — that it had a keyboard. I was in sales and marketing. I saw this first-hand. At that time, 1982, business people, who were in their 40s and 50s, did not have any computer or keyboard in their offices. And it was associated with being part of the secretarial pool or the word processing (remember that industry?) department. And so you'd put this thing in their office and they'd say, "Get that out of here." It was like getting a demotion. They really were uncomfortable with it.


Because secretarial work is for the women, not a gravel-chewing, fire-pooping, dock worker of a business executive. (Another reason was that they didn't know how to type, and a man who looks weak in his place of work is no man at all.) Glad we left all that sexism and prejudice in the past, right guys? [The Atlantic]

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