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The Digital Beat: Rest in PC

June 4, 2001 12:00 AM ET

I've seen the future of rock & roll and its name is ubiquity. That's right, even though the personal computer is currently the hot spot for digital music, newfangled wireless devices -- from Palm Pilots to cell phones -- are quickly gaining speed. Instead of having to be tethered to your clunky desktop or even your micro-thin laptop, you'll soon be able to get, say, the new Lourdes Ciccone single from just about any location -- from your Internet-enabled refrigerator to your "smart" TV. I'll go so far as to predict that the PC will be irrelevant within ten years. In fact, I'm so confident that I've already written this obituary:

The personal computer, the popular twentieth century machine that enabled people to efficiently access and process information such as text, mathematics and bestiality videos, died this week. It was thirty-five.

The rise of so-called ubiquitous computing -- intelligent devices embedded in everything from automobiles to bidets -- led to an end in production of the familiar desktop boxes. One prominent futurist said he's relieved at the outcome. "Sitting in front of my PC all day was hurting my ass," he explained.

The personal computer had its roots in an 1820s calculating machine invented by British mathematician Charles Babbage. By the end of the nineteenth century, bulky desk calculators were being mass-produced for offices around the world. Some of these machines' more socially awkward enthusiasts were chastised for trying to carry them in their shirt pockets.

The first computer was built during World War II when the United States government needed to, as one historian recalled, "whoop some kraut booty." Called the ENIAC (a.k.a. "that big metal fucker"), it filled a room the size of a small bacon-packing factory. When news spread that the machine could perform up to 5,000 operations per second, one confused senior citizen showed up at the ENIAC office to have his gall bladder removed. He was gently turned away.

During the mid-1960s, IBM began to manufacture similar mainframes for the workplace. In 1977, Stephen Wozniak and Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple II: the first personal computer. Through the Eighties, Apple and Microsoft dominated the hardware and software markets for the PC. In the Nineties, the Internet gave new meaning to the personal computer: Instead of just wasting time at home alone, techies could go online and waste time with millions of others around the world. Though it survived Y2K, the PC soon lost its stride. By 2020, lightning-fast connections over wireless devices in cars, homes and even proctology offices have become standard. As the last PC left the assembly line yesterday, it was the end of an era.

According to Emperor Gates, the next high tech revolution is imminent. "With smart chips implanted within every person's body," he declared, "the P [for 'Personal'] will be the most sublime interface this world has ever seen. Wait 'til you see my hard drive now!" The PC is survived by the CD-ROM disc platter, which, despite its antiquity, can still hold a sizable drink.

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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