The C64 Mini with the Bolt EUV

Old tech, new tech

Last weekend was significant. I spoke at the Commodore Los Angeles Super Show in Burbank, and it was my first long drive with our new Chevrolet Bolt EUV. The connection for me was more than the vehicle and destination. It was the connection between old tech and new tech.

Electric vehicles currently represent the ultimate in consumer electronics. Rechargeable batteries, electric motors, video and touchscreens, and computers have evolved to the point we trust them to transport us long distances safely. But I was there when all these technologies were introduced.

When I worked at AST in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I wrote the user documentation for the company’s first laptop, the Premium Exec. It had a nickel cadmium (NiCad) battery that ran for 90 minutes with optimum power saving settings. The LCD screen was black-and-white and not backlit. It was hard to see unless you stared at it directly in a well-lit room. It didn’t come with a mouse, but it had a clip-on trackball. It was ridiculously expensive, even at the time, but it sold well. You can even find a few on eBay today.

Even that laptop was a technological leap from the Commodore 64 I started my computer industry career with a few years earlier. The first time I gave a computer-based presentation was a demo of GEOS that I gave to a Commodore user group in 1986. The group provided a Commodore SX-64, a behemoth of a computer that weighed 23 pounds (10.5 kilograms) with a tiny screen.

Commodore SX-64 at the Commodore Los Angeles Super Show

A mess of cables connected it to an LCD projector that was about the size of a small freezer. The three lenses for the red, green, and blue beams were as large as dinner plates. The technician running the display warned me not to look into the lenses, or I’d blind myself.

Decades later, I’m driving a vehicle with lithium ion batteries capable of going 247 miles (399.1 kilometers) on a charge, full-color high-resolution screens, and computer systems so sophisticated, I can depend on them for braking. But this technology didn’t come out of nowhere. It has a history. I saw this history at the Commodore Los Angeles Super Show.

We need to preserve this history and share it with younger generations. They need to know where the technology they depend on came from. How did it get from these large desktop computers to their pockets? Why did some products succeed and others fail? And how different would their world be if those technologies succeeded? It’s a theme I talk about in my novel, Amiga. While I could have set the novel solely in the 1980s, I wanted to show the connection between past and present—both technological and personal.

Years from now, the electric vehicles and other tech we use today will seem as primitive as the AST Premium Exec and Commodore 64 do today. But they are part of an evolution of human knowledge and innovation. It is a history we should remember and cherish.