By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm
My pals at Gizmodo are conducting a fun week-long exercise in nostalgia in the form of Gizmodo ’79, a series of features about technology that’s thirty years old, and how it compares to tech circa 2009. One of the stories is Sean Fallon’s “Why You Can’t Complain About the Price of Today’s Gadgets,” which compares the price of gizmos from 1979 with current ones, taking inflation into account.
Boy, do we ever have it good today. I was a gadget hound and a PC user in 1979, but I was also fifteen years old and broke. So I mostly used stuff that belonged to other people (thanks, pop) and lusted after products I couldn’t afford, such as game consoles, VCRs, and, now that I think about it, color TV.
Reading Giz’s story reminded me that I would have had to do more lusting than buying even I’d been a grown-up with a decent amount of disposable income. An Apple II home computer with 48KB of RAM went for $2638. I’ve owned scads of computers in my life, but have never paid more than $2000 for one, but that II really cost $7770 in 2009 dollars.
If computers cost $7770 today, would I own one? Probably. But it’s not a given, and if I did plunk down that much money–possibly after having taken out a loan–I wouldn’t have anything left to spend on cell phones and fancy color printers and Wi-Fi routers and Slingboxes. It would be more like a car–a huge purchase that prevented you from being able to afford other stuff.
A world in which technology had advanced as much as it has since 1979, but prices had remained roughly constant would be one in which only really well-heeled folks would be able to enjoy all the gadgets that are in within the reach of those of us who are fortunate enough to be middle-class Americans. Remember that the next time you feel like griping about iPhone pricing or the cost of satellite radio…