“Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future!” - Dr. Emmett "Doc" L. Brown, Back to the Future (movie, 1985)
Inspired by Carolyn Foote's recent efforts to weed her collection, I decided to start scanning the K-6 non-fiction section of our Library Media Center. I haven't made it past 001.64 - computers. Two of the books on the shelf with this call number had copyright dates of 1985; the other volume was from 1983.
"I Can Be a Computer Operator" (Catherine Matthias, Chicago: Childrens Press, 1985) declares that "Someday soon everyone will be a computer operator. Everyone will need to know how to use a computer because computers will be everywhere. They will be in our homes and our schools. Someday soon there will be more than a billion computers in the United States." Ms. Matthias assures us that "very young people can learn to operate a computer" and asks readers "Have you learned to use your school computer?"
"A Look Inside Computers" (Paul G. Zomberg, Milwaukee: Raintree Publishers, 1985) explains the parts of a personal computer and makes connections between personal computers, educational programs, and game programs.
"Computers" (Ian Richards, New York: Franklin Watts, 1983) boldly predicted a future with "lots of computers...They will control all kinds of machines that will look after you and your home and family."
Matthias was just a bit off: according to the Earth Policy Institute, in 2002, the number of personal computers in the U.S. was estimated at 190 million. In 1983, only 10 million computers were in use in this country in home, school, and industry combined.
With the introduction of Atari, in the 1970s, and Nintendo, in the late '70s and early '80s, computer technology became an almost indispensable part of any household with children: it wasn't just for engineers any more.
Zomberg ("A Look Inside Computers") felt that "The uses of computers are limited, after all. They're limited by memory, size and programmers' imaginations. But those limits are being expanded constantly, as are the uses that people make of computers."
Richard ("Computers") anticipated the information revolution when he wrote "One exciting use of computer networks is to find out almost anything you want to know in your own home. You use a terminal to ask the central computer to show you the information on a screen."
Matthias ("I Can Be a Computer Operator") gave some career advice, "Would you like to learn to be a computer operator? If you would, start now. Play games on a computer. Learn how to solve problems on your home or school computer...You can learn how to make a computer work for you."
What has happened to the grand promise, the vision for the future that computers seemed to offer? We had all the components: the technical know-how, the eager public, the children who had found a cool "toy" and wanted more of the same. In education, at least, wholesale integration of digital devices is still a dream for the future.