The Apple II, launched by the company in 1977, was arguably one of the first successful attempts to sell desktop computers after two decades during which computing had been the sole preserve of corporations, universities and other large-scale institutions. The Apple II wasn’t quite a home computer, but it was something you might fit into a regular small office in a city like, say, Nottingham.
And that’s where Keen Computers, set up around 1980 on The Poultry just off Old Market Square, came in. As their copy puts it, the Apple II is a machine that can tackle all your “tedious, time-wasting jobs… with ease, and much more quickly than you’d think possible.” Leaving you, it seems, with plenty of time to check out the latest drama on the Playhouse stage.
True, we can see there’s a certain sleight of phrase going on, with the advert omitting to mention the fact that all the same information will need to be entered manually, just as it would have been using a typewriter and filing cabinet. But that’s just the old promise of automation leading to increased leisure time you’d already have been hearing for decades, even when this copy first hit print.
Viewed from today’s world, when the Apple II’s descendants have long-since forced the office into every corner of our lives, we might well raise a quizzical eyebrow at the idea of computers freeing us from the dreaded chains of our day jobs. In 2017, the onstage action is liable to be interrupted by the vibration of your mobile in your pocket as it announces yet another dozen additions to the inbox.
But, in fairness to Keen Computers, there was never anything inevitable about the way things turned out. For all the blame that lands on the devices themselves, it’s always been our politics, not our technology, that drives us ever deeper into endless labyrinths of zero-hours digital hustling and five-person salaried workloads. What if jobs now had the same hours, supporting casts and pay packets relative to living costs as their 1980 equivalents, but with today’s technology at their disposal?
It’s not impossible you might even have time to see a play once in awhile, if that’s your thing; or take a night class, catch-up with friends down the pub, or a long walk with the dog; whatever you fancied. Instead, it’s been decided that we should all collapse in front of Netflix the instant we get home because by that point we’re too knackered to process anything more taxing than yet another speech about how we’re going to be working harder and smarter, for less pay, in the future.