A Bedtime Story (courtesy of Bob Taylor)

This bedtime story comes to you courtesy of a talk at UT Austin by Bob Taylor.

On the last day of a three-day retreat for the top people at Xerox, Bob Taylor was asked to show the men the products of his Xerox PARC research team’s labors. And so he put on the stage the Alto, the first personal computer. The mouse, the Ethernet cord, an email system, a graphic display, and a laser printer were all attached–all in use at the Xerox PARC laboratories for some years by then and all shown to the men responsible for the future of the Xerox Corporation. It was the 1970s.

The presentation was followed by an opportunity for all of these titans of industry to test out the goods themselves, in an exhibition hall with little booths set up with the equipment. The men all stood around the periphery and chatted. The only people who approached the researchers’ tables were the businessmen’s wives. In Taylor’s account, the ladies had a grand time of playing with the gadgets.

Looking back, Taylor thinks that the man-repellents in his exhibits were the keyboards.* At the time, men didn’t type. Their secretaries did that. And many of the wives had come from the secretarial pool.

Which is perhaps why you did not buy your screen, your laptop, your Ethernet cable, your Internet service, and your mouse from Xerox. And why, in some alternate reality, Xerox is the largest company in the world and the dictionary entry for the word “xerox” continues for several pages.

* Alternative explanation: not enough lolcats.