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Time Magazine's 1983 "Machine of the Year" is a Personal Computer

1/3/1983 to 1/3/2013

Time Magazine's January 3, 1983 issue, published in print at the end of 1982, featured the personal computer as "Machine of the Year", in distinction to its traditional feature known as "Man of the Year." The cover of the issue depicted a white plaster man by sculptor George Segal contemplating a concept persdonal computer which Time commissioned from a design firm. 

Thirty years later, on January 3, 2013, Time reissued the January 3, 1983 issue as a downloadable bonus for its iPad, Android, Kindle and Nook subscribers, with a new introduction by Henry McCracken. That the reissue was produced in electronic form, rather than print, summarized the enormous changes that occurred in the creation, distribution, and storage of information during those three decades. McCracken summarized his introduction to the reissue in his "Technologizer" column of January 4, 2013, from which I quote:

"When TIME put together the issue, the PC revolution was still young. (The vast majority of homes didn’t yet have one.) But it wasn’t that young: The MITS Altair 8800, the first PC that mattered, came out in 1975. In 1977, it was followed by the Apple II, Commodore’s PET 2001 and Radio Shack’s TRS-80, the first truly consumery, ready-to-use machines. And another half-decade of evolution occurred before TIME commemorated the PC’s arrival so memorably.

"In retrospect, what the 21-page Machine of the Year cover package captures isn’t the beginning of the PC so much as the end of the beginning. The industry still had room for a bevy of hobbyist-oriented, sometimes downright rudimentary computers from Apple, Atari, Commodore, Osborne, Radio Shack, Texas Instruments, Timex (!) and others. None of them had futuristic features like a graphical user interface and a mouse; most ran their own operating systems and weren’t compatible with anything else on the market.

"Here and there, though, the issue hints at the changes which would really get underway in 1983. It mentions the IBM PC, which had shipped in 1981, and says that it’s setting standards for the whole industry. But it doesn’t talk about the phenomenon which would dominate the business by the middle of the decade: IBM PC-compatible “clones” which could run the same software as Big Blue’s system. That’s because there was only one clone in existence. (The second, Compaq’s massively successful, sewing machine-sized 'portable,' showed up in March 1983.)....

"As I wrote in my introduction for the tablet reissue, much has changed about computers since 1983. But one of the striking things about the issue is that it’s jam-packed with reminders of what hasn’t changed. Most of the things we do with PCs, tablets and phones in 2013 are in there: e-mail, games, word processing, learning, personal finance, music and cloud services. (O.K., in the 1980s, they weren’t called cloud services — they were known as 'mainframes.')"

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