Accidental Empires, Part 5 (Chapter 1b)




Several hundred users of Apple Macintosh computers gathered one night in 1988 in an auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to watch a sneak preview demonstration of a new word processing application. This was consumerism in its most pure form: it drew potential buyers together to see a demonstration of a product they could all use but wouldn’t be allowed to buy. There were no boxes for sale in the back of the room, no “send no money, we’ll bill you later.” This product flat wasn’t for sale and wouldn’t be for another five months.

Why demonstrate it at all? The idea was to keep all these folks, and the thousands of people […]

Accidental Empires, Part 4 (Chapter 1a) — The Demo God



Years ago, when you were a kid and I was a kid, something changed in America. One moment we were players of baseball, voters, readers of books, makers of dinner, arguers. And a second later, and for every other second since then, we were all just shoppers.

Shopping is what we do; it’s entertainment. Consumers are what we are; we go shopping for fun. Nearly all of our energy goes into buying—thinking about what we would like to buy or earning money to pay for what we have already bought.

We invented credit cards, suburban shopping malls, and day care just to make our consumerism more efficient. We sent our wives, husbands, […]

Accidental Empires, Part 3 — Preface to the original 1991 edition

accidental-195x300The woman of my dreams once landed a job as the girls’ English teacher at the Hebrew Institute of Santa Clara. Despite the fact that it was a very small operation, her students (about eight of them) decided to produce a school newspaper, which they generally filled with gossipy stories about each other. The premiere issue was printed on good stock with lots of extra copies for grandparents and for interested bystanders like me. The girls read the stories about each other, then read the stories about each other to each other, pretending that they’d never heard the stories before, much less written them. My cats do something like that, too, I’ve noticed, when they […]

The Jack Tramiel we didn’t know

Jack Tramiel died this week at 83 and that means I missed my chance to know the guy. People have complained in the past that my work ignores Commodore, which Tramiel founded, and Atari, which he took over after leaving Commodore following a fight with chairman Irving Gould. That’s a fair criticism. I haven’t written much about those topics because, frankly, I didn’t know Jack Tramiel. But asking around about the guy yesterday and today it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t at all the way he was typically portrayed.

Here’s what most people know about Jack Tramiel: 1) he founded Commodore in Canada to make typewriters then digital calculators; 2) he was an Auschwitz survivor; 3) […]