Tech Time Warp: Time’s daring choice for “Machine of the Year”
Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” is an annual conversation starter. This year’s selection of megastar Taylor Swift not only delighted Swifties but also sparked a new TikTok trend. This edition of Tech Time Warp looks at what (instead of who) was chosen back over 40 years ago.
In 1982, Time set tongues wagging by selecting the computer as its “Machine of the Year.” It was the first time in the series’ history an inanimate object was selected over a human. (The series began in 1927 with the naming of Charles Lindbergh as “Man of the Year” following his solo flight across the Atlantic. The series went gender-neutral and became “Person of the Year” in 1999.)
The cover of the Jan. 3, 1983, issue depicted a papier-mâché man sitting at a red table with a PC. In his introduction, Time publisher John A. Meyers noted the public’s increasing comfort with computers, stating: “Several human candidates might have represented 1982, but none symbolized the past year more richly, or will be viewed by history as more significant, than a machine: the computer.”
Pioneering the shift from hobbyist realm to mainstream domain
IBM had introduced its first PC in August 1981. This took the small personal computer out of the hobbyist realm and making it a feasible option for home and business use. In 2013, Time editor Harry McCracken looked back at the “Machine of the Year” selection, noting that the moment was not so much the beginning of PCs but the “end of the beginning.” “The industry still had room for a bevy of hobbyist-oriented, sometimes downright rudimentary computers,” McCracken wrote. “None of them had futuristic features like a graphical user interface and a mouse; most ran their own operating systems and weren’t compatible with anything else on the market. … Here and there, though, the issue hints at the changes which would really get underway in 1983. It mentions the IBM PC, which had shipped in 1981, and says that it’s setting standards for the whole industry. Though it doesn’t talk about the phenomenon which would dominate the business by the middle of the decade: IBM PC-compatible ‘clones’ which could run the same software as Big Blue’s system.”
Forty-one years later, naming the computer as “Machine of the Year” remains a solid choice. The computer has proven to have its own remarkable set of eras.
Did you enjoy this installation of SmarterMSP’s Tech Time Warp? Check out others here.
Photo: Olga Pedan / Shutterstock