TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder
August 21, 2014
When I arrived in the HP 3000 world, three decades ago this week, spreading the word about DP was supposed to be an attractive effort. We brought the workmanlike, newsprint-with-staples Chronicle into a marketplace where the leader was a slick-papered, four-color magazine bound like a book and produced as if it were a high-end design assignment.
In a Throwback Thursday covering the week my career started, the covers of Interact look like concept art. Much of what was inside was black and white with line drawings at best. But the outsides and even the big ads on the inside told the story of presentation in '84 style: focus on the beauty of the concept, and tout the details of the wonders of features. And some advertisers reached for the same level of art in their messages. Adager's ads often ran with little except a picture of the tape that carried the software, set in a mountain landscape or like the above, converted to a globe.
How else but with high concept could you make a full page of copy about a terminal that only worked with HP 3000s? There was a story in the HP ad, well-written, but like almost every other page of the user group's magazine, it was bereft of images of people.
The DP workers in these ads look flummoxed and beaten much of the time, because they don't have the invention of the year that will making using their 3000 the value it was promised to be. Some of the magic of the day included HP's Dictionary/3000, designed to eliminate the tedious writing of COBOL Identification Divisions. A cartoon depicts those who still perform this task as cave dwellers. Meanwhile, the wonders of fourth generation languages were touted as if these would soon become as universal as anything such as COBOL. Technically that would have made things like these 4GLs third generation languages. One of the things that made COBOL universal was that everybody knew it and you could find it running anywhere.
The abiding element in all of the messages from 1984's advertising was this: because you know how tech works, we know the decision lies with you. Years ago, the HP enterprise user group of our modern day began to separate the tech-steeped customer from the ones who knew business and partnerships and budgets. The geek customers were dubbed technologists. It would have been a compliment 30 years ago, because the days of magic were always amid our steps into the future. Magic about things we take for granted, like understanding that germs cause disease or that mother's milk builds smarter humans.
It was a year when knowing would get you promoted, and I grappled with all there was to learn. Some of the mystery would always elude me; the power of IBM's System Network Architecture had to be explained to me years after TCP/IP made SNA an afterthought. I never learned what the readers already knew and practiced. But like the wafer artwork that graced the front cover below, grabbing their technical wisdom and replicating it, one month at a time on tabloid newsprint, was enough to complete the circuits between what one DP manager knew and another desired. Especially when, like the best of the chipmaking, those circuits that we built ran faster than the competition. In the good months, with luck, you could see the advantages of speed.