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By Jamie – Flickr: Telex machine TTY, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19282428
In the late 1970s, when personal computers were not yet mainstream, I had the chance to attend a field trip to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with my sixth-grade class. During the visit, we were introduced to a unique technology that allowed us to interact with a computer using a typewriter.
At the time, the technology that we used on this field trip seemed like a futuristic wonder. The machines we used looked like normal electric typewriters, but the computer would print out the results on the same paper that we typed on. As a sixth-grader, I was fascinated by this technology and couldn’t believe that I was actually using a computer.
Years later, I had the opportunity to revisit this experience and try to understand what the technology in use may have been. After some research, I learned that the technology was likely a teletype machine combined with an electric typewriter.
Teletypes were a popular way to interface with computers in the 1960s and 1970s, before the advent of computer monitors and graphical user interfaces. A teletype machine was a combination of a keyboard, a printer, and a communication device that was used to send and receive data over a network or phone line.
The teletype machine was a precursor to the modern computer terminal. It enabled users to input data using a keyboard and receive output in the form of printed text. The teletype machines were also used to transmit data between computer systems and to print out data for offline analysis.
During our field trip, we would enter commands on the typewriter, and the results would print out on the same typewriter paper. This setup provided an early example of the interactive computing experience that we take for granted today. I enjoyed playing a text-based football computer game. I’d type in a command for something like “passing deep” or “run up the middle” on offense, and then the computer would type in the results like “Pass complete for 15 yards!” or “Run stopped for a loss of -2 years.”
Although I’m not 100% sure about the exact technology we used on that field trip, it’s clear that it was an early example of the interface between humans and computers. This type of interface was later replaced by computer monitors and graphical user interfaces, which made computing more accessible to a wider range of users.
In conclusion, the technology that we used on our field trip to Lawrence Livermore Lab in the late 1970s was likely a teletype machine combined with an electric typewriter. Although it may seem primitive compared to the technology we use today, it paved the way for the development of modern computer interfaces and helped to shape the way we interact with computers. As a sixth-grader, I was fascinated by this technology, and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come since then.