The 25 Most Notable Quotes in Tech History

Legendary sound bites that made sense, made history--or just made us laugh.

By  |  Monday, November 9, 2009 at 11:53 pm

10. IBM President Thomas J. Watson–in theory, at least:

I think there is a worldwide market for maybe five computers. --Thomas J. Watson

Quote type: Apparently apocryphal boneheaded miscalculation.

Googleosity: 951,000

Circumstances of origin: Very sketchy, but he’s most often said to have said it in 1943. But there’s no real evidence he ever said any such thing: The conventional wisdom is that the “quote” mangles remarks Watson made at IBM’s annual meeting a decade later, when he said that the company expected to sell eight examples of one specific computer on one particular sales trip. Then again, maybe Watson is being blamed for something vaguely similar said by a British mathematician around 1951. In any event, the data-processing magnate passed away in 1956, after IBM had sold a lot more than five computers but before he could defend himself.

Why it’s notable: People love to chortle at examples of alleged professionals who don’t know what the heck they’re talking about–so much so that it doesn’t seem to matter much whether the quotes are legit or not. (The Watson one was popularized by The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation, an entire book of such stuff.)

9. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone:

Mr. Watson, come here--I want to see you. --Alexander Graham Bell

Googleosity: 1,120.000

Quote type: momentous moment.

Circumstances of origin: During a scientific experiment at his laboratory in Boston on March 10th, 1876. Bell, of course, called out to his assistant Thomas Watson–no relation to the one we just discussed–and thereby discovered that his telephone was working.

Why it’s notable: It’s one of the greatest moments in gizmo history. (Side note: Nobody remembers precisely what the first e-mail said, but here’s the first tweet.)

8. Alan Kay, computer visionary:

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. --Alan KayGoogleosity: 1,300,000

Quote type: Insightful epigram

Circumstances of origin: Kay said it at a 1971 meeting at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where much of the future of technology was invented in the 1970s–including the graphical interface, Ethernet, and the laser printer.

Why it’s notable: It’s true, ennobling, and catchy, and Kay–whose Dynabook portable computer concept has been inspiring builders of mobile devices for forty years–has lived the dream. Bonus points: A slight variation on the quote is frequently misattributed to Abraham Lincoln. Wwhich is not something you can say about “Egg freckles?” or “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!”

7. Senator Ted Stevens, June 28th, 2006:

"The Internet is a series of tubes." --Ted Stevens

Quote type: Political blather.

Googleosity: 1,430,000

Circumstances of origin: During comments on June 28th, 2006 concerning net neutrality.

Why it’s notable: It’s possible that former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) will be best remembered for his forty years in the Senate and the ethical breaches he was convicted of (in a trial that was voided after he lost his 2008 bid for reelection). But it’s at least as likely that he’ll earn his place in history as the guy who said this stuff:

Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got…an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday Tuesday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

…They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

6. George W. Bush, president of the United States:

One of the things I've used on the Google is to pull up maps --George W. Bush

Googleosity: 1,480,000*

Quote type: Political blather.

Circumstances of origin: During a TV interview with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo on October 22nd, 2006.

Why it’s notable: The leader of the free world was famously tongue-tied–and hey, he told Bartiromo he used “the Google” only “occasionally.” Whether he misspoke or didn’t know what the world’s favorite search engine was called, his fumble has been intentionally repeated countless times by others in the three years since he made it.

*This number probably overstates this quote’s Googleosity–sadly, the Google makes it hard to form a query that accurately captures references to Bush’s gaffe.

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74 Comments


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66 Comments For This Post

  1. OHaleck Says:

    How about Bill Gates' "That must be why we're not shipping Windows 98 yet"?

  2. Chip Says:

    Steve Ballmer: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

  3. Brian Says:

    "If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it's worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago."

    Steve Jobs, As quoted in Fortune (1996-02-19)
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs

    And, what nobody's noticed is that he's doing exactly this.

  4. Jared Says:

    You have no chance to survive make your time.

    … sorry I can never resist. Move zig.

  5. Z Says:

    Thank you for posting more than one quote per page! Nice post overall.

  6. Backlin Says:

    And there’s always the classic, “What do you mean this computer is late? It’s five years ahead of its time!”

  7. Tech Says:

    “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer at home” LOL Ken Olsen is really eating his words. Forget the home, people have computers in their pockets.

  8. tom b Says:

    October 6, 1997: “And at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo97 here today, the CEO of competitor Dell Computer added his voice to the chorus when asked what could be done to fix the Mac maker. His solution was a drastic one.

    “What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders,” Michael Dell said before a crowd of several thousand IT executives. “

  9. Thomas Says:

    Bill Gates: “No one will need more than 637 kb of memory for a personal computer.” it may have been said in the early 1970s

  10. NanoGeek Says:

    @Thomas

    That quote is often attributed to Bill Gates, but I’ve heard that he never really said it.
    Could be wrong though.

  11. Dan Palacios Says:

    And I, for one, welcome our new insect [or insert technology here] overlords

    as quoted from the Simpsons. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_Space_Homer

  12. Robert Says:

    Re: "You've got mail." In documenting this clearly memorable tech phrase, you really should have noted it's poor grammer. It has trained a generation in bad English. If you expand the contraction "You've" you get "You have got mail." There's no need for the "got" — it's redundant. The simple statement "You have mail." is all that's needed — and could have been delivered with the same excited intonation for the same effect.

  13. Andrew Says:

    The infamous John C. Dvorak quote: “The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I dont want one of these new fangled devices.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dvorak#Quotes

  14. Bertolomie Says:

    I really, really like this article. Excellent work, Harry. One of your best, freshest Technologizer pieces yet!

  15. Michael Peck Says:

    Of course, lost in all this idiotic “Jobs was right!” hurrah-nonsense is the fact that at the time, Jobs pooh-poohed the Macintosh efforts in favor of his own Lisa.

    Which did not ship.

  16. Clive Says:

    I think the best Bill Gates quote is “I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time.”

    It is the opening sentence of the foreword to the “OS/2 Programmers Guide”.

  17. Daryl Says:

    I can’t believe you missed Charles Wright’s summing-up of the Amiga computer in some computer magazine review many, many years ago: “Adults don’t need colour.”

    This at a time when the world was filled with 8-bit, monochrome “IBM-compatibles”!

  18. Walter M. Clark Says:

    @Michael Peck, while the Apple Lisa was a commercial failure it most assuredly did ship. I passed on taking a job at a school district in 1984 with one of the jewels dangled in front of me the fact that they’d recently bought a Lisa to use for attendance projections.

  19. Irreverent Says:

    @Michael Peck: you’re wrong on every count. Not only did the Apple Lisa most certainly ship, but you are also way off the mark regarding Jobs’ attitude toward the Mac. He was the biggest Mac proponent at Apple from pretty much day 1 (read something like Andy Hertzfeld’s “Revolution in the Valley” to uncross your wires on this issue). To be honest I don’t know how you managed to cram so much misinformation into such a small post. Can I say “You’ve got fail”?

  20. John Richardson Says:

    For me, the best tech comment ever was by Walter Cronkite. In his TV series “The Twentieth Century” he visited the Jet Propulsion Labs in California. There the programmers, as a technology demonstration, had programmed an early computer- probably a PDP 8, to play a video game that resembled “Asteroids”. This was at a time when most people interfaced with their computer through a deck of punched cards. Cronkite looked at the row of refrigerator-sized computers running the game and speculated “Who knows, maybe some day we’ll have games like this in our own homes.”

    At the time, I thought he was crazy. Nothing that cool could ever happen.

  21. Idrankthekoolaid Says:

    It was Jobs who said 64K was enough and he said it about the Macintosh.

  22. Rolf.Breuer Says:

    Did not ship? Check the facts. I still say I had a "mouse interface" 2 years before everybody else. Yes – it did cost me 32,000 Deutsch Marks in 1983 but I loved it. (Some would say I had to.)
    The software was amazing and BTW – when I sold it in 1986 I had made all my money back. A week later and now in California, I bought a Mac Plus for $2,500…

  23. Dave Says:

    “One more thing” isn’t Jobs’ own phrase; he’s just quoting (perhaps mis-quoting) Columbo, who always used to pull that trick on suspects.

  24. Pat Says:

    “Linux is a cancer” – Steve Balmer 2001

  25. SofaKing Says:

    Columbo: Oh, just one more thing…

  26. Arby Says:

    Proof of Bill Gates "640k" comment is in the recordings of a speech he gave at Waterloo University (Ontario Canada) in the late 80's or early 90's. These recordings are available out there.

  27. Michael McDonald Says:

    Speaking of Ken Olsen's forthrightness, I remember a front-page story in a trade weekly, maybe ten years ago, which quoted him to the effect that DEC's financial difficulties were a good thing, becouse they provided an opportunity to "get rid of the riff-raff".

  28. JP Says:

    “PC Load Letter”

  29. wizarddrummer Says:

    “nothing would please me more than to be able to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.”

    Well Gates got it half right … hired more than ten programmers and then deluged the market with bug ridden crappy software!

  30. wizarddrummer Says:

    Gates is usually said to have made the claim that the IBM PC’s 640K of RAM was sufficient at a 1981 microcomputer trade show,
    What was completely retarded about how they implemented this was that the USER portion was BEFORE the Operating system instead of the other way around.

    Because of this massive stupidity we had to have memory “go arounds” for years with expanded memory and extended memory in the mix.

    It was horrible. I hated programming in the early DOS days. Unix was so far superior that there wasn’t even a notable chart worthy comparison; but the “best” does not always win!

  31. jpaul Says:

    Ah ah, it's not "grammer", it's "grammAr" ;-) !

  32. jpaul Says:

    What about the Little Britain meme "The computer says 'No'!" ?

  33. marko Says:

    I find that everything has its variety and everything goes according to consumer taste

  34. Nick Says:

    What about "My Name Is Macintosh?"

  35. GADEL Says:

    Interesting quotes.

  36. Tube Worm Says:

    "I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger." Jobs on Gates / MS

  37. Michael Says:

    "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons"; popular mechanics, 1949

  38. DaveA Says:

    Many moons ago, I was using a beta for AppleLink Personal Edition, which I think eventually became AOL. The You've got mail sound was in a very young child's voice. Very cute. I know I looked thru old floppies once, trying to find that sound, but couldn't. Maybe I can use The Google to try to find it on the interwebs.

  39. Dave Says:

    "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame." Rob Malda, on the iPod at its release in 2001.

  40. LauRoman Says:

    Actually the "One more thing…" quote is another thing Steve stole or (innovated) as his followers would put it. There was a famous glass-eyed italian-american police detective that was using the phrase a long time before mr Jobs. The actor playing that detective died a little over 2 months ago. http://youtu.be/biW9BbWJtQU?t=17s http://youtu.be/pZiv8vkxMac?t=2m18s http://youtu.be/qRHy3RL54sI

  41. Cactus Wren Says:

    "Have you got a prediction for us, UNIVAC?"

    — Walter Cronkite, November 4th, 1952. UNIVAC most assuredly did: it predicted that Dwight D. Eisenhower would get 438 electoral votes and Adlai Stevenson would get only 93. CBS found this so implausible that UNIVAC's prediction did not air live. Hours later the numbers were reported — but not until after what pollsters had forecast as a very tight race turned into an Eisenhower landslide, with the official count being 442 electoral votes for Ike, 92 for Stevenson.

  42. tool steel Says:

    This is an affecting point of view on this topic. I am happy you shared your ideas and I find myself agreeing.

  43. James W Says:

    If you make a technology statement today, you should expect that ten years from now, people will be laughing at you.

  44. James W Says:

    Funny how we had computers with slots that were the size of refrigerators and had graphics that were so pathetic that it required a vivid imagination to play them.

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  47. jones123peter Says:

    My favorite “oops, I wish I never said that” quote is Michael Dell’s “shut it down and give the money back to shareholders” advice to Apple. Of course, this was circa 1997 when Apple was in quite dire straits.
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  50. kelly grundy Says:

    Some great and funny quotes there, many things we say come back to haunt us eventually

  51. Mark Says:

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  53. dss Says:

    I am in closer agreement with you than Robert

    "You have mail" would be true if you haven't deleted all the mail you have ever received. You still have some.

    "You've got mail" means mail has arrived – informing you that you have received mail since the last time you looked.

  54. Freddy Says:

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  55. Marky Says:

    An then there is this Quote: "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons"
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  58. Stanley Says:

    I actually miss "Clippy"! It was a nice feeling that there was something livving in my computer and was always there to help….euhm…annoy me ;-) Winther Kinderbus

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  60. Xyzzy Says:

    1. Here's another notable quote: "Do you want to play a game?" – Wargames

    2. "Originally known as ARPANET, the Internet went online in October 1969 …"

    No: ARPANET was the 1st WAN, connecting California & Utah. The word "internet" was defined in the mid-70s as a theoretical global TCP/IP network — and the final links were connected to form *the* Internet around the very late 80s.

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