This week’s sent-in cool stuff came from Steve Ross, who sent me a box of IBM Binders.
Sometimes (OK, fine, often) I get to indulge in acquiring material that is personally meaningful to me. In the case of IBM binders, it’s one of those connections that, honestly, I find hard to explain but it’s overpowering. I’ll take a shot.
I don’t know when IBM started making instruction manuals in this fashion, but I know it must have pre-dated the IBM PC. That said, for a pre-teen like myself, the IBM PC would have been the first time I’d come up against this presentation and packaging. If it was intended to imbue a sense of power and confidence, to give the impression that IBM was here and everything was going to be OK, it did it in spades for me. I know that Digital and other companies had also made huge strides in creating documentation that smiled and tipped its hat to you, promising the world. But IBM was my first, and my strongest.
Each major product got one of these binders, this huge thing with tabs and the logo and inside a binder whose pages could be pulled out, or added to, or whatever. You saw these boxes on the shelf near any IBM PC. Here’s one in all its glory:
How could a kid not be impressed with something like this? How could anyone not be, especially if it was the first time they encountered a business-grade manual? After all, the IBM PC was going to be business-grade, and having a reference document nearby in such a perfect layout was fine.
If you’ve not encountered one of these in person, I do want to draw your attention to a significant detail/aspect of these manuals: the texture of the outside. This wasn’t just “cardboard” or a smooth colored surface. It was a crosshatched texture, one that gave a sense of richness and strength to the box and binder that you just don’t see as much anymore, now that everything’s commodity and lowest-common-denominator. Maybe this picture will help explain:
Can you see that? That bolt, that rich texture of the manual? Again, not something drawn/printed on the cover, but an actual textured feel. You could bring this to me, tell me to close my eyes, and stick this in my hand and I could tell you exactly what it was – my fingers would call back memories of a cold dining room with the computer on a table, pawing through this binder and trying to figure out how to make various parts work, or what buttons to press, or where I was going wrong in trying to make graphics show up. It’s embedded in my character, part of what makes me me.
Oh, sure, someone who does not buy into this worldview or my description of my feelings for these things can spit off a few quick digs, like my world being small or lacking proper human perspective or something. But in fact, this was all part of my growing up, of realizing that people could do really great stuff, and then when I encountered crappy workmanship in something as basic as the manual, I knew that things had strayed badly or the company didn’t work out all the problems with their product, or showed pride in it. There really was a pride about it, here. Of craftsmanship, of IBM throwing people at the problem and those people having a lot of meetings and deciding what kind of a manual would, before you even turned the machine on, make you feel like you’d made the right choice.
It’s an outlook that, in this realm, is truly gone. Thanks to Steve for letting me have a few additional specimens of this bygone era.
Categorised as: computer history
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