Information Technology is defined as the study or use of systems for storing, retrieving and sending information.
In this “Imagine Life Without” post, we’re going back to the invention that started it all… the printing press.
Invented by Johannes Gutenberg, this machine improved on already existing presses through the use of a mold that allowed for the rapid production of lead alloy type pieces. This assembly line method of copying books enabled a single printing press to create as many as 3,600 pages per day. By 1500, over 1,000 Gutenberg presses were operating in Europe, and by 1600, they had created over 200 million new books. The printing press not only made books affordable for the lower classes, but it helped spark the Age of Enlightenment and facilitated the spread of new and often controversial ideas.
Stanhope Press (1800)
In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, inventors began modifying the printing press by making parts of the press out of metal instead of wood. Earl Stanhope of England created a printing press with a cast-iron frame. In 1800, he invented the Stanhope Press, which was the first book press made completely out of cast-iron. The press also featured a combination of levers to give the pressman added power. It created powerful, cleaner impressions, which were ideal for printing woodcuts and larger formats.
Early writing machines jammed easily and were “full of caprices, full of defects – devilish ones,” early adopter Mark Twain wrote. In the 1870s, Christopher L. Sholes studied letter-pair frequency (which letters are used together most often, such as th) and reorganized the letterkey layout. The resulting qwerty keyboard, introduced in the Remington Standard 2 typewriter in 1874, prevented type bars from crossing up – and survives to this day as a computer keyboard.
There is no single inventor of the modern computer, although the ideas of British mathematician Alan Turing are considered eminently influential in the field of computing. Mechanical computing devices were in existence in the 1800s (there were even rare devices that could be considered computers in ancient eras), but electronic computers were invented in the 20th century.
The development of the computer spans centuries, but the modern digital computer has its roots in America. In 1937, it was invented by George Stibitz while he was working at Bell Labs.
The forerunners of modern personal computers were introduced in the mid-1970s as kits. Little did pioneers like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who wrote programming language for the MITS Altair 8800 kit,…
…or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who designed the skeletal Apple I, know what was in store.
The Apple II, which debuted in 1977 with color graphics and an attachable floppy disk drive, ushered in a new technological era – and when IBM introduced its Personal Computer in 1981, the PC began its slow acceptance as a crucial business tool instead of merely a geeky toy.
In 1983, there were 10 million personal computers in the U.S.; today 80 percent of American households have a notebook or PC, creating unprecedented levels of efficiency, capability and access to news, music and entertainment.
In 1949, the first modems converted U.S. Air Force radar data into sounds and squawked them over phone lines. A receiver then translated the noises back into data. (“Modem” draws its name from the first letters of the words describing the process: MOdulation and DEModulation.) Transmission was slow until the late 1990s, when it hit 56 kbps, fast enough to learn that “You’ve got mail.”
Computer Mouse (1952)
Initially, it was more like an elephant: The first trackball, which was invented by researchers in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1952, started life as a duckpin bowling ball. Other inventors created smaller prototypes, but it wasn’t until Apple paired its Lisa computer with a small controller 31 years later that the mouse assumed the basic design it has retained for decades.
The Integrated Circuit (1959)
In 1959, we saw the creation and discovery of the integrated circuit. Integrated circuits allow engineers to fit a lot more transistors, resistors, and capacitors in a smaller area. It was Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor, along with their teams, who created the first integrated circuits in 1959. All computers eventually ended up using integrated circuits, which later developed into microprocessors.
The Floppy Disk (1971)
In days of yore, when microcomputer hard drives were still a gleam in Seagate’s eyes, early adopters loaded operating systems and programs via floppy disks, which IBM introduced in 1971. Floppies kept evolving – from 8 pliable inches to 3.5 rigid ones – but the rise of CD-ROMs assured their extinction. “The floppy’s most lasting inheritance is the ‘save’ and ‘save as’ disk icons you see in the toolbars and menus of many applications,” Washington Post technology reporter, Rob Pegoraro, said in a 2010 column.
Email became popular at the onset of the 21st century. It has become the preferred form of communication because it enables a quick relay of messages and at the same time saves resources like ink and paper. The first email was sent in 1971 using ARPANET, by Ray Tomlinson, between two computer terminals placed side by side. Ray Tomlinson, a programmer from New York, is also credited for using the ampersat (@) sign to separate the user’s name and the user’s machine, the latter changed to the domain name later.
Laptop Computer (1982)
In the age of the MacBook Air, a computer weighing more than a few pounds seems like a desktop. But the most successful early laptop was the GRiD Compass 1101, a clamshell computer that went on sale in 1982. The gadget spurred innovation; today, 59 percent of U.S. adults own a desktop and 52 percent own a laptop. In the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, seven in 10 are laptop owners.
Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet cost $3500 when it came out in 1984. Today, lasers are cheap, but their ammo isn’t – a toner cartridge for a $100 laser jet costs $68.
Early computer games required multiple floppy disks. Digital audio is stored on a CD in almost the same way as computer data. Which is why the CD-ROM (Read Only Memory) was developed and launched around 1985. Like the audio CD the disc has a diameter of 12 cm and a storage capacity of 650 to 700 MB – equivalent to 450 floppy disks or more than 250,000 types A4 pages. A CD-ROM allows fast data access and has a very high reliability.
World Wide Web (1989)
The World Wide Web as we know it with its linked hypertext documents was proposed in March 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist. Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau proposed the links to a web of nodes in 1990 – the year that the first web site was completed.
Were it not for Lee and the World Wide Web there would be no Facebook, Google or YouTube. In an interview with the BBC to mark the Web’s 25th birthday earlier this year, Berners Lee commented on its huge significance. “It was really important that the web should be able to have anything on it, but the idea that it would end up with almost everything on it…it seemed like a crazy idea at the time,” he said.
Flash Drive (2000)
Toshiba engineer Fujio Masuoka, developed the concept of flash memory – so called because the erasure process reminded a colleague of a camera flash – in the early 1980s. But the good ship flash drive needed a way to dock. Intel’s Ajay Bhatt and his Universal Series Bus (USB), which was introduced in 1996, provided part of the solution. But data still didn’t travel well until 2000 when the first USB flash-drive stick, with eight megabytes of storage, arrived.
Wi-Fi Router (2000)
Since it’s introduction in 2000, Wi-Fi has made it’s way into more than 9000 devices, from phones to TVs. According to a Wi-Fi Alliance poll, 75 percent of young Americans say they would give up coffee before Wi-Fi.
Microsoft’s Touch Input Tablet Computer (2000)
A full decade before Jobs launched the iPad in 2010, Bill Gates launched Microsoft’s touch input tablet computer.
Two years later, Gates showed up with an improved model, a color tablet. It used the Windows XP Tablet operating system.
Kindle E-Reader (2007)
Unveiled in 2007, the Amazon Kindle transformed digital book delivery from niche to mainstream. It’s key innovation was built-in wireless that enabled users to access a massive e-book store. While the Kindle changed the game, it by no means created it. Early versions like the Rocket eBook and SoftBook prompted PM to write in August 1999, “One of these electronic books may be the last book you ever buy.”
Apple iPad (2010)
On January 28, 2010, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, unveiled the iPad, the widely and wildly anticipated tablet-style computer that he called “a truly magical and revolutionary product.”
“What this device does is extraordinary,” Jobs said. “It is the best browsing experience you’ve ever had. … It’s unbelievably great … way better than a laptop. Way better than a smartphone.”
The iPad was designed to be the missing link between the two. The model Jobs demonstrated at an invitation-only event in San Francisco operated without a hardware keyboard, with Jobs typing on what he described as a nearly full-size touchscreen keyboard.
From 1440 to 2017, we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of information technology. Today, you can get information anytime, anywhere you need it, almost immediately. Just think, where would we be if it wasn’t all started by the printing press…
We hope our efforts to share some information inspired you to submit your next idea and who knows, maybe someday we’ll be wondering what life would be like without YOUR idea!