This is a true story, of course, but you’ll have to trust me.
For the past 20 or 30 years, I’ve realized that I don’t understand new technologies, except for the ones I used in my business. So when I saw this headline in The Wall Street Journal, I was puzzled, to say the least, if only for a few seconds. The headline said, Turkey Muzzles YouTube, Media Ahead of Elections. My first reaction was, “What the heck, is there some central, monster computer that a turkey wandered into and shut down?”
Keep in mind that I have been using a computer probably every day of the week for more than 20 years, but I’m still slow to understand technical terminology. The most recent example is the term “cloud computing,” which I see on television commercials, magazines and newspapers. However, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling out of touch. How many of you, unless you’re in a technical job, fully understand what “cloud computing” is all about?
It’s not that new technology doesn’t get me interested. It seems like an eternity ago, but I bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers. It was a total waste of money, because, if I’m not mistaken, there was no Internet to hook into, so I had very little use for it. Fortunately, I sold it to a friend for about what I paid for it. Would you believe that the price of the early Macintosh was in the many thousands of dollars? I think it was more than $4,000, compared to today’s much more powerful computers at one-quarter the price – or less.
While I’m confessing to my bad judgment about “business” tools,” there’s one that’s even worse – percentage wise – than the Apple story. If you’re old enough, you may remember that early calculators had no “screen” in the sense that we think about it today. It spewed forth paper, which I suppose is still useful to accountants and the like. In any event, I was intrigued when the first – to my knowledge – handheld calculator came out. Another broker in my San Francisco office had bought a very early Panasonic, which was about the size of a pack of cigarettes.
The Panasonic seemed so useful and fun to use that I bought it from my colleague. How much would you guess that I paid? Would you believe $3,000? I did use it – occasionally – and sold it a few months later for a fraction of what I had paid for it.
Who knew that a few years later the price would have dropped 90 percent or more.
That price drop was not limited to calculators. While I’m indulging in nostalgia, I will never forget that when I was barely into my teenage years, I had saved, or more likely begged from my parents, $75. That was an enormous sum, but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of the first transistor radios. It was a lime green Emerson, that had eight transistors. Of course it was AM only, since FM did not exist yet. But AM was OK, since I could listen to my favorite rock ‘n’ roll station, WINS. Alan Freed was the disc jockey for the evening show, and his sidekick was Stan Z. Burns, known as “the curly headed kid in the third row.” When Burns sat in for Freed, he referred to himself as “the crown prince sitting in for the king.”
Who would have predicted that if you had guessed right about technology and invested in the appropriate stocks, you would have made zillions of dollars? Apple came around later, and Google was not even a gleam in someone’s eye.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]