Computer Journalism in the Dark Ages

Published Friday, July 1 2011

I’ve recently been reading Brian Bagnall’s book On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore. It’s a good read, if a little rough in places and perhaps in need of more judicious editing.

But while reading it, I’ve also kept some source materials by my side. Thanks to modern technology, I have my iPad with a collection of Byte magazine from the late 1970s sitting next to the book, and it’s been fun to go find the original articles that Bagnall sourced for his work.

This morning I was reading about the launch of the Commodore PET 2001 at the 1977 National Computer Conference in Dallas. The segment in Bagnall’s work mentioned a positive review in Byte by Dan Flystra, so I looked it up. What struck me immediately was the date. The computer was ordered by Flystra in June, 1977. The review was written in October, 1977. And at long last, it was published in March, 1978.

This seems remarkable now. From product purchase to review in subscribers’ hands: nine months, the length of time it takes to make a human being. Even disregarding the long lag time between order and delivery (vaporware is timeless, after all), we’re left with five months between review and publication. In an age of Twitter and Facebook, this seems incredible, absurd. Yet, I remember these times. They occurred within my lifetime.

That makes me feel old.

How far we’ve come. Think about it the next time you watch an unboxing video of some new gadget on Youtube that was filmed an hour earlier, and just two days after the order shipped direct from Shenzhen, China.