The 1980s - Technology Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The 1980s - Technology

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Thanks to the arrival of the microchip in domestic appliances, the '80s was a time when the general public began to see everyday examples of technological innovation. By the end of the decade, most televisions had infra-red remote control handsets and, thanks to the growth of the VCR, the home video cassette market boomed - as did video piracy! New technology was everywhere:

Microwaves - I'm still using the one I bought in 1984; mobile phones the size of house-bricks - well, I daresay my original model would still work, if the network was operative; fax machines - suddenly every workplace was knee-deep in paper scrolls (so much for the 'paperless office' ideal). We all threw out our '70s percolators and teasmaids and bought filter coffee-makers instead (mine was not consigned to a Charity Shop until the mid-90s, when cafetieres were 'the thing').

My First Computer

Everyone remembers the day that a home computer first entered their home. But what was yours?

... a Radio Shack TRS-80, or 'Trash-80' was an accurate nickname. it had a tape cassette drive, and Dad would never let us listen to our music tapes on the tape drive.
... a Commodore 116. The data for this computer were loaded from a walkman-like device called the Datasette, which used ordinary audio tapes. The programs, mostly in BASIC, could not be bigger than the memory of the computer (16 kilobyte), but loading from the tape usually took a couple of minutes. Though Commodores were the most widely-used home computers at that time, today the brand name is only left on boxes for floppy disks or stuff like that.
... an Amstrad 1640, monochrome with a Hercules graphics adapter - I couldn't afford the CGA version at the time. (And yes, it's still operative - wish I could say the same of the PCs I've had since - they don't make 'em like they used to.) Of course, every 'Yuppie' had to have their own PC and Lotus 123 - how else could they calculate the massive returns on their share portfolios? Hardly anyone used them to play games - number-crunching was far more exciting!
... a BBC Micro made by Acorn. After I retired, the BBC's computer literacy course on TV was my introduction to computing, which became a recreational hobby. I have spent many fruitful and enjoyable hours pursuing that hobby since '83 when it all happened.
... a Texas Instruments TI-99. It didn't even use diskettes, it had an audiotape recorder for data storage. It was a fun little machine; in school we learned how to do programming in computer classes instead of working with applications like the kids do today. I still remember spending *hours* programming in basic on an Apple IIg to make a simple image of a flag. Hard to believe that was only 15 years ago.
... a ZX8o, and then the ZX81, which we upgraded from 1K RAM to 16K - wow!
... an acorn electron - it still works if you can be bothered to plug it into the back of the telly and wait half an hour for a program to load through the earphone socket of a tape recorder. We never did get to the end of sphinx adventure. Never quite managed to catch the mouse to scare off the elephant to get outside again.
... a Spectrum 48k with the fantastic rubber keyboard, then I eventually upgraded to the 128k with integral tape recorder. Ahh, those happy hours spent listening to the sound of the computer trying to load bootleg games copied onto cheap tapes...
My dad bought me a 'Speccy' 48k, and it quite literally it transformed my life. 1984 was really sunny, but I can't remember actually going out even once that year. I used to program games in Basic (with those funny rubber keys that had all the commands pre-programmed in each key), and gradually I learned some Assembler. I was also a huge adventure-game fan, 'Lords of Midnight', 'Colossal', and an awful Ian Livingstone game that drove me half-mad. I also programmed a game based on 'Shelob's Lair' in Lord of the Rings. Never did anything with it mind you. I ended up writing business accounting packages for the Apple II, and then onto the IBM PC AT. That sort of lead to my current job...
I was so obsessed with it that my dad covertly confiscated the computer coming up to my exams. My keyboard gave in (no surprise) a few months before the exams, and my dad sent the computer to the repair shop, warning them that he didn't want to see it again until my exams were over. I never realised what he had done until afterwards. The cold turkey was exactly what I needed...

Bringing the Arcade into the Home

Nintendo had originally been a trading card production company. However, by the 1970s, they had dipped a toe into electronics with several arcade machines and even built a laser clay shooting system. By the 1980s, they had reached the point of no return - they packed up the trading cards and joined Namco and Atari in the nascent videogaming industry.

Nintendo got off to a good start with the 'Game And Watch' game systems. All you had to do was buy a small 'Game and Watch' Pad and you had one game you could play. These became more complex as time went on, but 'Game and Watch' was a big success. And lasted into the '90s until Gameboy made it obsolete.

Soon, we saw the arrival of one of the most famous video game characters ever (and Nintendo's mascot) - Mario. In 1981, Mario starred in 'Donkey Kong', Nintendo's first Arcade machine to have 1,000,000 players (although at the time he was referred to simply as 'Jumpman'). In it, Mario had to climb a strange, unfinished tower to rescue Princess Pauline from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. Mario and Donkey Kong went on to become Nintendo's first screen idols.

Mario appeared in the first NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) Game, 'Super Mario Brothers' (1985) in which he ran through several worlds to rescue a different damsel in distress, the Princess Peach Toadstool, from the evil King Koopa1. In this game, several characters were introduced including Luigi, Toad, the Koopas and the Goombas. Other games Mario appeared in during the mid-eighties were the 1985 Super Mario Brothers 'Game and Watch' game, in which Mario and Luigi stack Bricks, and the 1986 Arcade game, 'Mario Brothers', where many 'Marios' duked it out.

In Japan, a sequel was made for Super Mario Brothers for NES, however it was deemed to be too hard after its initial release. So, Nintendo of America took a game called 'Doki Doki Panic', which revolved around Middle Eastern and Indian themes, and replaced a few things with Mario elements to create 'Super Mario Brothers 2'. Afterwords, Japan released this as 'Super Mario USA' and included 'Doki Doki Panic' elements in later Mario games. The Japanese Version of 'Super Mario Brothers 2' was later released without a storyline and dubbed 'The Lost Levels' in the '90s game, 'Super Mario All-Stars'. Nintendo, meanwhile, went from strength to strength with other games such as 'The Legend of Zelda' and 'Metroid', making them the leading console game developer until the mid-1990s with the arrival of Sony's PlayStation.

The Sinclair C5

On paper, this looked like a great invention - a battery-powered car for less than £400! It was environmentally sound, with a cool aero-dynamic shape, but it wasn't exactly a formula one car. At the cost of a month's wages it was capable of 25mph on the flat (or 40mph with a milk-float battery!), though the driver still had to peddle when going up hill. In the traffic it was great, it didn't so much weave its way in and out of the traffic, though as it was so low on the ground there were always concerns of the driver ending up more under the traffic (which was the primary concern of road safety campaigners). The weather was another problem - unlike a bike were the rain just fell away from the bike and rider, the C5 became more of a bath on wheels. With no road tax, no insurance, no MOT or petrol required however, it was a driver's dream2.

At Last - A Multi-coloured Cube!

How many of us ever cracked the Rubik Cube? And how many of us cheated by peeling the labels off or dismantling the thing entirely?

If you can't remember the '80s but want to find out what it was like, then you can't do any better then getting The Wedding Singer out on video. Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in one of the funniest movies ever. The clothes, hair and decor are all spot on and it's got a cracking soundtrack too!

Further Reading

See Also

1Or Bowser, as he is known now.2One of the last surviving C5 models can currently be seen acting as a plant-pot in a pub in Newcastle.

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