Every year since 1927, Time magazine has honored the “Person of the Year”. That is, for one major exception, the one year when Time didn’t.
The year was 1983 and the world was quickly changing. The rumblings of technological advancements were on the horizon and many were just beginning to become acquainted with something that would change society forever: the personal computer.
You can probably guess where i’m going with this.
Jumping Back In Time
In 1927, Time magazine released the first special issue of what would become one of their landmark publications. Until 1999, the issue would be called “Man/Woman of the Year” (ultimately opting for “Person of the Year”) and Charles Lindbergh was the first face to grace the cover.
The name Lindbergh is better known today because of the infamous 1932 kidnapping and murder of Lindbergh’s first son, twenty-month-old Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., from his home in New Jersey. But in 1927, Lindbergh was a legend of his own, being the first person to complete a 33 1/2-hour solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Over the next few decades, Time magazine’s cover would feature a wide range of famous individuals – many presidents and political leaders from the US and around the world, astronauts, popes, queens, and adventurers. And because the magazine defines “Person of the Year” as somebody who “for better or for worse … has done the most to influence the events of the year,” a number of controversial faces have graced the cover as well.
Make Way For… A Machine?
When Time magazine published its 1983 “Man of the Year” issue at the end of 1982, it didn’t feature any well-known face. Instead, it included a photo of a paper sculpture of a man sitting in front of a table, looking at a computer screen. The cover read “Machine of the Year: The Computer Moves In.”
Computers were not a new thing in 1983, but up until a couple of years before, they weren’t something you just had at home either, mostly because of their high price tag. But by 1982, Commodore Business Machines (CBM) had released the Commodore 64. With a price tag of just $400, it was incredibly affordable – suddenly, people were able to play games, handle word processing and accounting processes, and even listen to music in their own personal computers, right at home.
By 1984, Apple Macintosh would release its first personal computer, the Lisa. But with a price tag of $2500 for a basic model, it was out of reach for many, so the Commodore 64 (and its successor, the Commodore Amiga) continued to sell in high numbers for years to come.
When Time magazine chose to put a personal computer on the cover, it could not possibly anticipate the revolution that was on the way. Still, it was obvious something big was brewing. As Time itself would put it, “Time’s “Man of the Year” for 1982, the greatest influence for good or evil, is not a man at all. It is a machine: the computer.”
The Computer Revolution
The original 1983 Time magazine article looked closely at the fears surrounding computers, questioning how they would change the way people think or if they would make people smarter. Even looking ahead at the impact they could have on both kids and adults. There was also a concern about whether computers could make learning obsolete – after all, if a dictionary stored in a computer could fix your spelling, why bother teaching people to spell at all? A fear that resonates with today’s similar concerns regarding AI replacing writers, designers, and artists.
By 1988, just five years after Time magazine’s revolutionary cover, 15% of American households had a personal computer. Excel, Microsoft Office, HP DeskJet inkjet printers, and Sega’s first gaming console system were suddenly available and the world would never be the same.
By Diana Bocco contributor for Ripleys.com