Paul Atkinson


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Reaktion Books
1 June 2010
ISBN: 9781861896643
256 pages

From the publisher

The pixellated rectangle we spend most of our day staring at in silence is not the television, as many long feared, but the computer – the ubiquitous portal of work and personal lives. The computer is now so common we don’t even notice it. It is difficult to envision that not so long ago it was a room-sized structure accessible only by a few, a mysterious machine inspiring fear, awe and respect. Now that it has decreased in size and increased in popular use, the computer has become a prosaic appliance. These dramatic changes, from the daunting to the ordinary, are captured in Computer.

Here you can read about the changes in the physical design of the computer and how these changes are related to shifts in popular attitude: in contrast to ads from the 1970s and ‘80s, today’s PC is very PC – genderless, and largely status-free. Computers also appear in various forms in popular culture, from the Billion Dollar Brain to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, James Bond’s gadgetry and Star Wars and Star Trek.

Computer covers many issues overlooked by other histories of computing, which have focused on technology and the economics involved in their production, but rarely on the role of fashion in the physical design and promotion of computers and their general reception. This book will appeal to professionals and students of design and technology, as well as those interested in this history of computers and how they have shaped – and been shaped by – our lives.


‘The many illustrations (often old ads) are fascinating and often funny (1980s businessmen tripping off to work with massive "portable" computers), or reveal obscure aesthetic precedents (1983s Orb computer looks suspiciously like the first iMac).’ — The Guardian

‘An elegant history of the computers journey from its "initial form as a forbidding room-sized construction" to "an innocuous box sitting on top of an office desk." Atkinson describes all the important technological milestones stored memory, the first mouse, the development of touch screens but this is more art book than technical manual . . . Computer offers dozens of great photographs of and vintage advertisements for boxy old computers, and Atkinson analyzes these images as a means of exploring how our attitudes toward computers have changed over the years . . . an oddly fascinating history’ — The New Yorker

‘This is a gem of a book. Atkinson has written a highly readable yet authoritative survey of computing history and its connections to the larger cultural forces that often invisibly guide how technology emerges from and propagates through a society . . . what emerges from Computer is a fascinating story of the progress in computer product design, accompanied by rare and illuminating photographs that show the wide gamut of changing maker and user perceptions of what thisuniversal machine could be . . . I heartily recommend it.’ — Journal of Design History