The first laptop met with distaste because it was associated with the gendered job of secretary

The “first recognizable laptop” created in 1982 ran into some problems such as its hefty price tag and its association with typing and who did the typing in many offices:

But Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm and Handspring (makers of the Treo), was there in 1982 and he told a different story at the Computer History Museum a few years ago during a panel on the laptop. For him, the problems were not exclusively in the harder domains of currency and form factor. No, sociological and psychological reasons made the GRiD Compass hard to sell to businessmen…

This is an amazing fact. We had this product. It was designed for business executives. And the biggest obstacle, one of the biggest obstacles, we had for selling the product was the fact — believe it or not — that it had a keyboard. I was in sales and marketing. I saw this first-hand. At that time, 1982, business people, who were in their 40s and 50s, did not have any computer or keyboard in their offices. And it was associated with being part of the secretarial pool or the word processing (remember that industry?) department. And so you’d put this thing in their office and they’d say, “Get that out of here.” It was like getting a demotion. They really were uncomfortable with it…

The second reason they were uncomfortable with it is that none of them knew how to type. And it wasn’t like they said, “Oh, I’ll have to learn how to type.” They were very afraid — I saw this first-hand — they were very afraid of appearing inept. Like, “You give me this thing, and I’m gonna push the wrong keys. I’m gonna fail.”

In Hawkins telling at least, there was no way around these obstacles. “We couldn’t solve this problem. It took a generational change, for the next younger group who had been exposed to terminals and computers to grow up,” he continued. “That was an amazing technology adoption problem you would have never thought about.”

This is a great example of underlying sociological issues that might not be considered fully when making and marketing a new product. On one hand, this was an exciting new technology but on the other hand, existing social factors made it difficult for businessmen to grab the opportunity this technology represented. Ideas about gender and who was supposed to be a typist, viewed as a lower status position, influenced technology adaptation.

Also, this story could lead into the history of secretaries and typists. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the field of secretaries started turning away from men to women. Like other gendered occupations with a majority of women, secretary became a lower status position with relatively lower pay.

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