We Live in the Future

Sure, I still want my jetpack and hovercraft, but we DO live in the future. In a talk I gave recently, I illustrated this position with few small examples of how far we’ve come.

When I was born, my father (an IBM programmer) used some cutting-edge computer technology to make my birth announcements. See images below.


MFCUI love that acronym, “MFCU.” Sounds like something out of a 70s blaxploitation film.

How did he use these? He made birth announcements on 96-column punch cards in which the punches spelled out the word “BOY.”


In 1972, here’s what the cutting-edge of MEDLINE looked like to most users:


According the NLM’s Janet Zipser, MEDLINE was the first remote access, real-time database in existence. By the end of 1972 about 150 libraries had access to MEDLINE® all at medical schools and research facilities. The rate was $6/hour, a 4-fold reduction over direct dial. The highest speed available was 30 characters/second. Most people had 10 characters/second Texas Instrument Silent 700s.

Please understand how amazingly fast people thought 30 characters/second was. Please also understand how that compares to today’s speeds:


And now PubMed is available to everyone with an internet connection…for free. Anna Kushnir-type gripes aside, this is amazing.

I looked at what storage memory cost circa 1979:

Compare that to the flash drive I keep in my pocket at most times:

The IBM 3340 Direct Access Storage Facility was introduced in March 1973 …Two, three or four 3340 drives could be attached to the IBM System/370 Model 115 processor — which had been announced concurrently with the 3340 — providing a storage capacity of up to 280 million bytes.


In order to match the storage capacity of my flash drive, this is how many IBM 3340s you’d need:

In order to match the storage capacity of the laptop I was using at the time, this is how many IBM 3340s you’d need:

xkcd put it nicely:

iTunes, as far as I can tell, has over 11 Million tracks.

But what brought this all to mind was something I stumbled across via PopURLs the other day:



We live in the future.


Via Joe (http://friendfeed.com/jokrausdu), here’s what 200 MB looked like in 1970:

200 MBs in 1970

200 MBs in 1970


8 thoughts on “We Live in the Future

  1. FYI the MFCU was designed in San Jose. The smaller card was intended to reduce the size of equipment required for the larger 80 column card but on-line large disk drives obsoleted the device very quickly. You might have shown the first disk drive: the IBM 305 RAMAC, 5 million 6 bit character on 50 large disks!

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  3. David, great post! Sorry you didn’t also mention AIM-TWX, which was the first way that I searched online using a 10 cps TeletypeWriter Exchange device (@65 cents per min). Well, actually, my first computerized search of “MEDLINE” was a MEDLARS Demand Search in 1970, but that was part of my library school education. Nice to see the history all together. Thanks very much – – –