When you look at the historical cost of personal computer purchases in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s pretty difficult to white today about the amount of sheer power we have in our hands and how little we have to pay for it. That said, I still hear A LOT of pissing and moaning from people when they are confronted with a personal computer purchase that is even $1,000.
I know it’s all about a lack of context…so let me give you some.
In the late 1980s, my wife and I had launched a trend forecasting business (she’d been a trend merchandiser for Target Stores so this was a natural) and we created a newsletter called The Trend Curve (its backstory is here). Launching this newsletter was due, in no small part, to the amazing power at the time of the Macintosh SE30, a LaserWriter printer, and a software program called Aldus Pagemaker. Together, the Mac/Laserwriter/Pagemaker trio is what kickstarted the desktop publishing trend and ended up completely disrupting and overhauling the prepress and printing industries, and allowed a young couple to create a business, now over 21 years old, and put a woman named Michelle Lamb at the forefront of international trends in the home furnishings industry.
Less than three years later in the fall of 1990, we were publishing The Trend Curve four times per year and creating flyers, postcards and lots of other promotional products by using a page layout program on a tiny, 9-inch screen. While the Mac SE/30 had a huge 80MB hard drive and a fast 68030 processor, using it was a frustrating exercise as was waiting to proof output in color since that little screen was black and white and I had to scroll all over the place to go to various parts of a page. Knowing I had to upgrade to a computer with color and a bigger monitor — but not having the nearly $6,000 to spend on a Macintosh IIci with a color display — I fortunately knew an Apple business employee who was kind enough to use his once-per-year “first discount” (60% off) and buy exactly what I needed.
Going through some papers this weekend I came across the invoice above and the memories came flooding back. Not only the glee I felt having a state-of-the-art Mac but one that sported a HUGE 13″ color display with 640×480 resolution! You can see the technical specifications here and I know that any of you reading this will look at this IIci today and have the same reaction my 15 year old son did (“….and you actually used that thing every day?”) but at the time this was one amazing and powerful machine.
The retail price of this setup was nearly $6,000 and the Apple employee discounted price was $4,193.00. To give you a sense of the buying power of that $4,193.00 vs. today, the inflation rate average from 1990-2009 has been 2.73% so $1 in 1990 would require spending $1.67 in 2009 dollars to get the same value. Therefore the “dollar worth” of that IIci today would’ve meant a retail price of $10,020.00 and that Apple employee discounted price would be $7002.31 in 2009 dollars.
Yikes. Today that $7,000 could easily buy three powerful desktop machines plus one laptop.
So the next time you go in to an Apple Store and see a 27-inch 2.66ghz iMac with 2560×1440 resolution, 4GB memory and a 1TB hard drive for $1,999.00, I sincerely hope you appreciate the sheer power at your fingertips, how you can use a machine like this to start your own business, and resist the temptation to whine.