The mouse at fifty
Obscure anniversaries are always the most interesting. Anniversaries like the one today, the fiftieth anniversary of the patenting of the first computer mouse. There were other competitors for the role of controlling a computer cursor, pens and joysticks, but it was a wooden-cased mouse that gained pre-eminence. Few people could have anticipated just how pervasive the mouse would become in the lives of ordinary people.
It was less than seven years after the patenting of the mouse that I started at Strode College in the town of Street in Somerset.
It was September 1977 and it was considered ground-breaking that alongside the A Level course we were following, there was a computer course. It was a course that included nothing that a computing course would include now, and it ran for just one hour a week for the first term of a two year course. The exercise seemed odd, its intention unclear, if computers were the future, why was such a brief time spent in educating us in their use?
Perhaps at such a remove, my memory does not do justice to the college’s attempts to prepare us for the age of information technology, but, as I recall, there was not much that we could have learned in the time we spent in the computer room.
We sat, two to a terminal, and mainly tapped sums into a keyboard, the numbers appearing as white text on the background of monitors that resembled television sets. The tutor would telephone Bristol University and our terminals would be connected to something called a mainframe computer.
The greatest progress was made by a friend who managed to design a primitive, two dimensional car that he programmed to go across the screen, at a very slow speed. Some years later, he was able to use the course in his application for a post with a merchant bank, it was one more course than other applicants had completed.
Computer technology in the first twenty-five years or so of the mouse was very rapid. I bought my first PC in 1994 and have been online since 1997.
Since then, it seems to have flattened out, everything has got faster, much faster, but the mouse I used in 1994 was not much different from the mouse I use today. Microsoft Windows still fills the screen of every monitor in school. QWERTY keyboards are still as quirky as they always were. Glitches still seem as common as they always were.
A wooden-cased mouse would seem very stylish compared to the dull, uniform plastic descendants.
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