Back in the Day

Today in class we were talking about technology and its many uses in the world of business.

As part of the coverage, the textbook takes a brief look at the history of technology, at least from the 1970s onward. Since there was little need for me to review such basic material that the students could learn on their own, I tried to personalize it a bit by giving them a brief historical account of my own use of technology over the years.

I told them that I bought my first computer back in 1986, an AT&T computer with a color monitor, two floppy disk drives, and a 20 meg hard drive (that’s right, meg, not gig). To put it in perspective, I told them that 20 meg is the equivalent of about four or five 5 MP3 songs. That was it, but at the time, it was state of the art. As was having a color monitor, which were just starting to hit the market.

I then told them that a few years later, and a couple new computer systems later, as well as hard drive upgrades, it was time for the Borden family to take the big plunge and buy its first internal hard drive that was more than one gig. As it turned out, Compuserve was having a sale at the time for a 1.5 gig hard drive for the amazing price of $300. I drove out to Compuserve, bought the hard drive, came home, installed it, and thought I would never run out of storage space again.

Well we all know how that story ends.

At this point in my story I then reach into my pocket and take out my keychain which has a about a one inch thumb drive on it, and told the students that the thumb drive holds 64 gig worth of data, and cost about $15. That’s 40 times as much data as my old 1.5 gig hard drive, for 5% of the cost.


I then told them that I had been to a computer store the other day (MicroCenter) and saw a two terabyte external hard drive for sale for $80. That’s 1,000 times more storage space than my thumb drive, for only about five times the cost.

(Fun fact: The first hard drive to have more than 1 GB in capacity was the IBM 3380 in 1980 (it could store 2.52 GB). It was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 550 pounds (250 kg), and the price when it was introduced ranged from $81,000 to $142,400.)

If you put all this on a cost per megabyte basis, here’s what we have:

  • 1.5 gig for $300 = $0.20 per meg
  • 64 gig for $15 = $0.00023 per meg
  • 2 terabyte for $80 =$0.00004 per meg

And I don’t see this trend ending at all.

As if this wasn’t exciting enough, I then regaled them with stories about the early days of the Internet, and using a dial-up service known as Prodigy.

I told them how my first modem was 300 baud, then I upgraded to 1200 bps (bits per second), and eventually to 14,400 bps, and I thought that was as fast as Internet speeds would ever get. I would tell them what it was like if you wanted to look at a photo online; you would have to watch the photo come on to your monitor one line at a time. It was slow, but still incredibly exciting to be able to do things like that.

Today, we have FIOS Internet at 50 Mbps (megabits per second). If my math is right, and using the tables I found at this web site, that is over 200,000 times faster than my first 300 baud modem.

So even though I still get annoyed if things don’t download fast enough, I fully realize Internet speeds are exponentially faster than what they were just a relatively short time ago.

Once I give them that trip down memory lane, and hopefully help them appreciate the technology that they have, I share some fun facts about Big Data:

  • Facebook users send on average 31.25 million messages and view 2.77 million videos every minute.
  • Every minute up to 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube
  • In 2015, a staggering 1 trillion photos were taken and billions of them were shared online
  • Google, on its own, processes more than 40 thousand search queries every second. This comes up to more than 3.5 billion in a single day.
  • Walmart controls more than 1 million customer transactions every hour

To me, it’s mind boggling stuff, and I find it endlessly fascinating, and excited to see what the future holds. And I hope my students one day have stories to tell about technology “back in the day”.

Published by

Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

4 thoughts on “Back in the Day”

  1. I hope you told your students about Commander Keen as well! Way better than any of their iPhone games, and it probably took up a small fraction of the storage space 🙂


      1. Klik & Play! Probably one of the best computer programs of all time. Thinking back on it now, it was sort of like programming a game using Microsoft Excel; maybe that’s why I enjoy Excel so much….



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