Modern technology is generally taken for granted. We cannot even imagine our lives without smart phones, computers, laptops, tablets and other similar products that help us in so many aspects. Moreover, they provide us with a lot of entertainment too. But, where did it all start?
Less than a month ago, a brand new museum opened in Buenos Aires, the first one of its type in the country. The Fundación Museo de Informática, Computadoras y Accesorios Tecnológicos – ICATEC (Museum of Informatics, Computers and Technological Accessories) was founded by two professors of computer science – and spouses – Alicia Murchio and Carlos Chiodini.
A primitive computer (photo: Beatrice Murch)
After several years of collecting calculators, computers and related equipment, Chiodini decided it was time to share his possessions. “There was really no point in keeping all these magnificent products for myself. I feel it is very important for everyone, especially youngsters, to see how we have progressed,” he explains.
ICATEC’s moto is to travel back in time, to the good old days when hackers were not a security issue, when the only pirates the world had known were sailing on the high seas, and when ‘Space Invaders’ was a cutting edge computer game.
Chiodini describes his main goal and the reason he founded ICATEC as to: “conserve, preserve and exhibit the computer heritage of our country for the knowledge of future generations and protect the memory of the pioneers who took part in the most important processes in the history of computers in Argentina.”
Over the last 40 years, Chiodini has gathered around 1,600 computer related pieces, mostly donations from both firms and individuals. Less than 5% of them are currently on exhibit in this rather small museum that covers around 70 square metres.
A guided tour through the salon is the only way to recognise the majority of products, unless you are a computer expert. At the beginning of the tour, when the owner turns into guide and greets all of his visitors, Chiodini goes way back, starting with some primitive versions of calculators and emphasising the fact that computers were originally invented to facilitate mathematics. “YouTube videos and Facebook were definitely not the priority the first inventors had in mind,” Chiodini adds.
The tour is designed chronologically, which ensures that even non-geeky visitors understand what this expert is saying, besides realising the importance of computers in their earlier days. It does not matter if you are seeing a microprocessor, hard drive, or a historic personal computer, every object is described with overwhelming enthusiasm and spiced up with an anecdote or two. And the best thing is that around 90% of the pieces still fully work, according to Chiodini’s estimate, and before the tour starts, everything that can be is turned on.
While you move through the showroom, things get smaller and lighter. If we started of with a rather big and heavy 10 MB hard drive from 1971 – back then worth US$33,000 – we slowly move towards the ancestors of modern computers.
An early hard drive (photo: Beatrice Murch)
A piece of equipment on which Bill Gates started building his empire and began changing our lives, the first laptop and one of the first tablets are on display. Surprisingly, we found out that the concept of tablets has existed for 22 years, even though they only became widely available very recently.
Initial pieces from Compaq, Panasonic, Casio, Toshiba, HP and Apple – giant corporations of the 21st century, are kept at ICATEC, all with the original manuals. A special aisle dedicated to Apple is not to be missed if you are a Mac lover. ‘Lisa’, one of the earliest Apple’s computers, stands out. Chiodini explains how Apple placed a big emphasis on design and user-friendliness right from the beginning. While admiring the ‘Apple section’ and comparing it to computers from the same periods, you understand why it has always been one step in front of its competition.
Elsewhere on the tour, there is also an opportunity to play a rather primitive computer game with a retro joystick and finish by learning how – if you are too young to remember – the obsession with computer games even started.
Chiodini offers two guided tours every Friday, which is the only day ICATEC is opened to public. The owners, besides running this museum, work as full-time teachers. For groups though, special opening hours apply. Even though a door sign states that a guided tour lasts approximately 45 minutes, professor has no problems with working overtime and sharing his knowledge. Chiodini never checks his watch. After 90 minutes of interesting and amusing stories, a suggested contribution of $5 per visitor seems so little for any computer enthusiast, which might explain why the donation box is full of larger bills. School groups, seniors and members of non-governmental organisations can get in for free.
Mankind has made a huge progress and there is no sign of stopping. For some, camping outside a technological store a night before their newest gadget comes out, has become almost as natural as waiting in line at your favourite coffeeshop. To fully absorb the significance and history of computer development, or just to spend an hour filled with fun facts, ICATEC is worth a visit.