Percussa micro super signal processor

Here’s a terrific vintage Apple II ad – one that might inspire some readers of this site to go eBay an Apple II for their next VJ gig. (Hey, it has analog video out built in, something a modern Apple … doesn’t.)

Of course, what’s telling is that when this ad was made, in 1977, buying an Apple II was not about getting an ecosystem of pre-built software. Most of the examples assume you’re coding what you’re seeing yourself. Sure enough, pick up a vintage computer manual, and it more or less skips into coding right away, typically in BASIC. (These things seem ubiquitous at flea markets and garage sales.) DIY code might sound intimidating, but the programming examples very often are simple enough that a novice or even a kid could get going right away. (It is, to be fair, sometimes unclear what the purpose of printing text to a screen in loops would be; before we wax nostalgic, coding today really is a lot more fun and productive than it was three decades ago.)

It’s not so much the programming language used, or the fact that the Apple II when introduced just didn’t have that much software. What you see in the ad is a vision in which the whole family, kids included, can be expressive with code in a way they might not with off-the-shelf software – either in 1977 or 2012. That’s why it’s so nice to see things like Processing on the iPad. Forget about the tablet versus PC, iPad versus desktop battles. Computers have always played a tug of war between consumption and creation, fun and productivity, entertainment and art. When they’re at their best is when you really do begin to see those boundaries melt away, into something that is the expressive “bicycle for the mind” Jobs once described.

In a tech-phobic 1977, truthfully, computers were in the hands of a few, and this vision of programming your own graphics was likely alien from most people’s reality. In 2012, it’s another story. Computers, whether in a phone or a desktop, are spreading to the whole planet’s population. And the idea of groovy computer graphics seems less some weird technologic thing (hence the strange vocoded voiceover), and more a natural form of self-expression.

In other words, this needn’t inspire only nostalgia. It could be an idea that was simply before its time.