The Changes in Computer

“In the 1950s-60s, no one in the computer industry could have imagined the digital media world of today”.

I got this excerpt from Dr. Irvine’s introduction video. No one can predict the future of technology accurately, because we’re living in a information explosion era. Everything in the computer industry is always changing rapidly. Several decades ago, computer is designed for government, military, and business use. We know that the first true computer in the world is financed and developed by the US Army Ordnance Corps for military use in 1946. The first computer is basically a big calculator, and it could occupy the whole room. It can be said that the Cold War is the major pushing factor for the creation of first computer. The fear of being inferior to other countries technologically pushes US to invest a lot in computer developing. And new weapons and military-use softwares like guided missiles and GPS need computers to run the whole system. Overall because of these military factors, the first computer came out, and it looked like this:

(photo from wikipedia Commons)

Then let’s see how Apple computer looks like today:

This is the latest macbook pro that released in Sep. 2017. Obviously we can tell it’s much smaller, more portable and good-looking. And it also applies GUI, the graphical user interfaces, which makes user can easily control the computer. It’s a design that allows users to interact with the computer with graphical icons and visual indicators. For the users and customers, the computers with GUI are more flexible, easy to control, and more entertaining. As Alan Kay has said about GUI, “For the first time, I felt like I was touching the information structure”, GUI system gives users new experience.


Except for the changes in outlook, the new macbook reveals the functional changes of computer. As we have discussed, computers in the last centuries were designed for military and business use, while today they have more to do with educational and entertaining use and instead of government use, they are more for individual use. Alan Kay contends that a computer is more like a “meta-medium”. We cannot see computer as a medium has its own fixed rule, but a platform that also represents the other media. For example, we can purchase apps from app store and different apps and softwares have different functions. With iTunes, individuals can enjoy more beautiful songs; with Youtube, people can watch any types of video they like; with BBC News, people can know what happens in the world; and with Python or JAVA, people can design their own softwares.

Besides, the new macbook also add a touch bar in the keyboard. The users can  actually control the computer through touching different bars. This change also increase Human-Compter Interaction (HCI). It also applies desktop metaphor into use. In this system, the computer monitor can be seen as a desktop, and the folders and documents will be placed in order in the desktop. Because the desktop is closer to our life, the desktop metaphor also makes it easier for the users to control the computer. And all those changes also show that the good design makes our life easier.


Martin Irvine, Intro to Information Theory in Meaning Systems. Retrieved from:

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information. Retrieved from:

Alan Kay: Doing with Images Makes Symbols (1987). Retrieved from: