Ask many people of a certain age (around 40) where they first encountered a computer and you will invariably hear “Tomorrow’s World in the Grafton Arcade”. Yet strangely if you google it, most of the mentions online are by me since 2005.
I can’t overstate how important that shop was for several years in the 1980s. Just like the first McDonald’s on Grafton Street was a Mecca for us muckers up for our Christmas shopping in the 80s, so too was Tomorrow’s World for anyone who knew what a home computer was.
One of the lads on the trip had been to Tomorrow’s World before and brought a bunch of us with him. They had a variety of US machines like the TI-99/4A (the first and last time I touched one) but they also had the ZX81, and it was love at first sight.
I badgered my parents for one in the latter part of 1982 and luckily for me, Sinclair released the ZX Spectrum around that time. My Dad arranged for a co-worker in the UK to grab one from WH Smith and a secret meeting in a hotel in Portlaoise landed the 16K model in my lap.
I have genuinely never looked back. I also still have that Spectrum and it still works.
I googled Tomorrow’s World this evening and finally found some other mentions of it in New Scientist. It was an ad for a HP Scientific Calculator from December 1982. Poor HP, always launching things at exactly the wrong time.
Some screenshots from Google Books of the Ad in question:
Plus the ZX81
And of course the legendary ZX Spectrum:
But what is the modern Spectrum of the 201x years? It’s certainly not the iPad, which is the Nordmende TV to our Spectrums. It is (mainly) a consumption device, just like most consoles. Can I suggest that it is Android phones and Google App Inventor. If I’d had tools like that back in 1982, I’d have been doing a hell of a lot more than drawing circles on the screen in BASIC. The future is mobile and we need all of our kids to be completely adept with everything mobile.
I’ll do an updated report on how things are going with App Inventor lessons in my kids’ school over the Christmas. Suffice to say that it has been very very very slow but we are finally seeing some great results, particularly from kids who have never used a PC or smartphone before. I am optimistic for their futures as creators, not consumers.
But back to Tomorrow’s World. I think it’s time for a plaque on a wall on Grafton Street like those ones for famous authors: “Tomorrow’s World 198x-198x. They accidentally kick-started the entire IT industry in Ireland.”