In Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is a scene in which a tribe of early hominids, having encountered an extraterrestrial Monolith for the first time, are suddenly evolved to the next stage of human consciousness, and are capable of using tools for the first time.
This video of children from the ages of 6 to 13 trying to figure out how to work a vintage Apple II is like the opposite of that. And it shows just how inexplicable computing was to pretty much everyone before Steve Jobs released the original Mac in 1984.
YouTubers the Fine Brothers have an entire series of videos in which they sit children down in front of vintage devices like Walkmen and CD players and make them use them blind. They’re usually pretty amusing, but this one, in which the kids take an old Apple II for a spin, is particularly enjoyable.
I think it’s easy to forget, even for those of us who were there at the time, just how inexplicable early computers are. For example, while the kids in this video are as mystified as you’d expect by the lack of Internet, mouse or even apps on an early Apple II, they’re completely mystified by the fact that they can’t even figure out how to get it to compute simple math problems without entering the “PRINT” command first. Or the fact that upon turning on a vintage Apple II, nothing happens until you hit the ‘Reset’ button.
Some of the kids try to look on the bright side of things, saying that the Apple II is impressive because it’s “kind of the first technology,” but you can tell their hearts aren’t really in the compliment. Although only around 35 years old, the Apple II might as well have been a thousand years old, as far as these kids are concerned.
What’s interesting to me about the video is that I’m guessing if you put these kids in front of a classic Macintosh from just four years later, they’d immediately grok it, and at least be able to figure out how to use it without being guided by the nose through every step. That’s what is so amazing about what Apple did for computing: in just four years, Apple essentially invented the personal computer twice. Once for science nerds, and then for everyone. And they haven’t stopped since.