The computer in my pocket



Like many of us, I carry a mobile phone. It is one of several brands of so-called “smart phones” that combine a telephone function with other applications that make it behave like a computer—which, in fact, it is.

I went to college in the early 1960s and you could always spot the men and women who were studying computer programming and use. They went everywhere carrying a box of IBM cards. Remember those? Sometimes checks were printed on them, and they were used for other things as well.

Each card was able to represent a line for entry into a computer. The computers then were huge electronic systems that often took up entire buildings. On a visit you might see the console that could be used to enter information or programming, but there were also systems that could process those IBM cards and enter the information contained on them into the computer system. You might also see banks of magnetic tape decks used for storage and entry of data.

Back then computers were something of a mystery. Most of us didn’t understand much about them and most didn’t even want to understand them. But they managed banking, personnel files, library card systems, and many more things we never really saw or heard about.

By the 1970s the computer industry began to work on making computers smaller and easier to use. If you use a laptop or desktop computer, you have seen the results of that effort.

Smaller computers have another advantage over the old ones, which used miles of wiring and vacuum tubes to do their work. Because the information doesn’t have to travel as far, it makes the journey more quickly, traveling at the speed of light through microprocessors instead of huge computer banks.

Like many of us, I began to carry a mobile phone some years ago, when I was doing radio news reporting. Those little analog phones didn’t do much more than make phone calls. The makers added games, calculator applications and other functions and soon the mobile phones were starting to act like computers.

Today’s smart phones are really very miniaturized computers, capable of processing e-mail, accessing the Internet and much more. It makes me wonder exactly where all of this is going. What will the next 20 years bring? I can’t wait to see.

WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.

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