In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 9, 2020

That Time Mayovox Predicted Computers Were One Step Behind Microwave Ovens

By In the Loop

A recently uncovered Mayovox article from 1982 explains how a handful of Mayo staff banded together to buy Apple computers and form a computer club, where they began exploring the new timesaving device.

Back in December, In the Loop received a gift from Mayo Historical Unit Librarian Karen Koka: A link to a 1982 article from Mayovox, the former newspaper/newsletter for Mayo Clinic staff. "Personal computers give head start on future," read the headline. Below it was a photo of a smiling young man, Phillip Stevens, in front of an early computer — an image that could be a vintage Apple ad. "They're one step behind microwave ovens," Phillip's mom and Mayo staffer, Bernadine Stevens, told Mayovox. "In a few years they won't be a novelty." We felt as happy as Phillip looked to read on.

Mother Stevens, a supervisor in Mayo's Urinalysis Lab, was onto something. Back in '82, home computers were indeed still a novelty and something of a luxury. The Stevens family, along with a handful of other Mayo staff, had banded together to buy Apple computers at a group discount — and still shelled out around $2,000 per unit. "We made a family decision to buy one rather than, say, take an expensive vacation," Alvaro Pertuz, who worked in Systems and Procedures, told Mayovox.

Pertuz and Stevens were among 30 or so members of Mayo's computer club, dubbed A.D.A.M.'s (Amateur Digital Analysts and Microcomputers) Apple "after Apple, a large manufacturer in the microcomputer field." (We knew that name sounded familiar.) The group met twice a month for "a talk and a programming demonstration." They also shared what might have been "most valuable of all, experience," Mayovox reports. "Learning about the idiosyncrasies of the Apple system saves new members a lot of time."

Mayovox wasn't alone in its computer coverage. That same year, Time magazine named the personal computer its Man of the Year, marking "the first time that the editors selected a non-human recipient for the award," according to Wired. "In winning the nod from Time, the PC beat out some formidable competition, including Ronald Reagan (who would be named twice), Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Israel's Menachem Begin."

The Atlantic also devoted many, many words to the new technology in a piece titled "Living With a Computer." In it, writer James Fallows details his transition from typewriter to the Processor Technology SOL-20. "The process works this way," he explains. "When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen." Later, he writes, "I can hardly bring myself to mention the true disadvantage of computers, which is that I have become hopelessly addicted to them."

Fallows' addiction admission seems prophetic, as does one of the final paragraphs in the Mayovox article. "The microcomputer is expected to be the home control center of the future," the publication reported. "Right now, it's possible to buy options that adjust home temperature, turn lights on and off according to a schedule, or even turn them on when someone enters a room and off when they leave."

"It's hard to comprehend its capabilities," Stevens told Mayovox. Though it seems to us that she and the other members of A.D.A.M.'s Apple had a pretty good sense of what was to come. As Koka says, "I hope they all bought stock." (Us too.)

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Tags: Community, Karen Koka, Mayo History, Mayovox, technology

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