Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet

By Brian Winston | Go to book overview

11

THE INTEGRATED CIRCUIT

SUPPRESSION (CONT.): IGNORING SOLID STATE ELECTRONICS

From the beginning of the computer age, there is no question that smaller machines were not built and could have been. But, given available valve technology, of what use could they have been? And, second, were the solid state electronics, essential to the contemporary personal computer, simply not available; indeed, not yet ‘invented’?

As to the first of these questions, differently configured supervening necessities—the electronic office and the non-nuclear science lab rather than the cold war—could have produced applications for which developments of the Baby Mark I, for example, would have been perfectly viable. But, more than that, a different research agenda would have yielded solid state devices earlier. My contention that the ‘law’ of the suppression of radical potential operates in computer history depends finally on denying the supposed ‘synergy’ of the technologies of computing and solid state electronics, and the idea that the micro-computer had to wait for the microelectronics to come on stream.

Transistors, it must not be forgotten, were ‘invented’ late in 1947, so every machine we have so far discussed came on stream in the semiconductor age; yet, contrary to received opinion, transistors did not become the norm in computers. In fact, the failure to exploit solid state electronics constitutes a fourth element, apart from indifference, language provision and size, in the operation of the ‘law’ as it applies to the computer. Received opinion of the relationship between microelectronics and computers simply ignores this:

It all began with the development thirty years ago of the transistor: a small, low-power amplifier that replaced the large power-hungry vacuum tube. The advent almost simultaneously of the stored program digital computer provided a large potential market for the transistor. The

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Media Technology and Society: A History: From the Telegraph to the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures xi
  • Acknowledgements xiii
  • Introduction: A Storm from Paradise 1
  • Part I - Propagating Sound at Considerable Distances 17
  • 1 - The Telegraph 19
  • 2 - Before the Speaking Telephone 30
  • 3 - The Capture of Sound 51
  • Part II - The Vital Spark and Fugitive Pictures 65
  • 4 - Wireless and Radio 67
  • 5 - Mechanically Scanned Television 88
  • 6 - Electronically Scanned Television 100
  • 7 - Television Spin-Offs and Redundancies 126
  • Part III 145
  • 8 - Mechanising Calculation 147
  • 9 - The First Computers 166
  • 10 - Suppressing the Main Frames 189
  • 11 - The Integrated Circuit 206
  • 12 - The Coming of the Microcomputer 227
  • Part IV - The Intricate Web of Trails, This Grand System 241
  • 13 - The Beginnings of Networks 243
  • 14 - Networks and Recording Technologies 261
  • 15 - Communications Satellites 276
  • 16 - The Satellite Era 295
  • 17 - Cable Television 305
  • 18 - The Internet 321
  • Conclusion: the Pile of Debris 337
  • Notes 343
  • References 351
  • Index 361
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