It was June 29, 1975 when Steve Wozniak demonstrated the first Apple computer — essentially microcircuits embedded in a wooden chassis — to his colleague Steve Jobs, and the personal computing industry began to bud. Just two months before that, Bill Gates and Steve Allen launched Microsoft to produce software for the Altair 8800.
While personal computers were seen as a pursuit of technically proficient hobbyists at the time, others saw much more vast potential for computers and their impact on society and business. Robert Lewis Shayon, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, saw broader implications for the way people would ingest news, information and interact with one another. In a special supplement to the Philadelphia Daily News published April 14, 1975, Shayon predicted that by 2025, newspapers will be published and viewed on television screens. “You won’t buy the newspaper at the newsstand,” he said. “You will retrieve it at home by pressing a button on a small keyboard near a transistorized flat wallscreen.”
Spot on. Shayon saw a world interacting via computer technology in the 2020s, and even described cloud computing. Here is how he described our times, as seen from 1975:
“Newspaper pages will flash up instantly electronically, one by one on your screen, to be scanned, flipped or held before your eyes as long as you desire. You’ll press another button if you wish to keep an article in the paper. A hard copy will printer will drop it into a box in your living room in a few seconds.”
“Newspapers will be stored in a computer, enabling anyone to see its pages again and again.”
“TV will be the ‘ask-for-it-and-get-it medium. Information, games, education will be created in electronic packages, stored in vast computers and retrieved by individuals to suit their special tastes at their own time preference.”
“Every room will have a TV screen and a finger keyboard. In the kitchen you’ll punch up a film and follow a recipe. Kids will do their homework by checking in with two-way television instruction programs. They will solve math problems with the help of distant computers via the homecom center screen.”
“That finger keyboard won’t be just for entertainment. You’ll punch up the local supermarket and scan the steak you want for dinner. You’ll shop, bank and receive your mail via television. Electronic police and firemen will guard your home when you go out. You’ll vote by TV, attend community meetings and business conferences, use the libraries of the world. You can produce your own programs, be your own publisher over TV and receive royalties.
Shayon was even well-aware how this will be all paid for in the futuristic 2020s: “TV will be a world of individual choice instead of passive acceptance. Of course, you will pay for it. All these services will be billed monthly.”
Now, how will the world look and interact by the 2070s? Professor Shayon, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were driven by compelling visions of computing becoming available, at low cost, to empower and inform everyone on the planet. What’s next? Who are the visionaries who are today looking not just five or 10, but 50 years ahead? How do they envision technology changing people’s lives and livelihoods? We can only stay tuned for the next chapter.