Once upon a time, about 15 years ago, I bought my first computer after much debate with myself. I was writing a (my) book and the combination of typing and saving was a rather irresistible option. But my budget was tight and I had a feeling that portable computers were not quite yet at their peak and that waiting two or three more years would probably let them improve substantially before they stopped changing radically. How naïve of me.
So I finally settled for a compromise while passing through Amsterdam’s International airport; I acquired a tiny Olivetti Quaderno notebook, half the size of regular portables, for $800. It had a monochrome screen, its own very basic operating system on top of DOS, a 20 (!) MB hard drive, 1 (!) MB of RAM, and if my memory serves me well the processor was running at 16 (!) Mhz. Now those numbers are so ridiculously small they make me think I’m wrong. But that’s just been the story with computers. An amazingly fast growth, and yet we’re never satisfied.
My next purchase, less than a year later, was an AST with a passive color LCD screen running under the goofy Windows 3.1 operating system. With 4 MB of RAM (which I eventually upgraded to… 8!) and a 40 MB hard drive, the new computer seemed like a universe by itself and I thought I would never be able to fill the drive. But it did.
Then came a long series of Compaq laptops, each an improvement so great on its predecessor it felt like I had finally reached the plateau in the curve. Specs could not possibly keep on growing indefinitely, there would have to come a time when not an extra MB of RAM could be crammed into a computer, I thought. I was wrong again.
My current computer is nowhere near the top of the line yet it is equipped with 2 GB of RAM and a 120 GB hard drive, that’s two thousand times more RAM and six thousand times more hard drive space than my first computer had. My iPod has a 40 GB drive and my camera a 4 GB memory card, the latter being more storage space than my first five laptops combined!
And I’m about to get a 500 GB external drive for peanuts. Where does it all end, then? I’d say probably never. The increase in performance should be exponential, the price drop steady, and quantum computers are around the corner. So what’s the bad news? We-are-spoiled.