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On last night's episode of Mad Men, the east coast Sterling Cooper & Partners office got a massive new computer. As Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) notes: "This agency has entered the future."
Much has already been written about the not-so-subtle symbolism hidden throughout the episode, from the title "The Monolith" (lots and lots of parallels to 2001: A Space Odyssey), to thoughts on how the introduction of computers effects the intelligence of advertising:
“The IBM can count more stars in one day than we can in a lifetime,” Lloyd the computer's installer says. “ But what man lay on his back counting the stars and thought about a number?” Don Draper answers.
Mad Men has always been diamond point-sharp when it comes to capturing the zeitgeist of America's past. Thus, the undercurrent theme of asking will technology stifle creativity? ring out loud and clear. As the New York Times notes, innovation and emerging technology has been appearing in the show since the first scene of the pilot: “Now try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology,” Joan told the new girl Peggy, introducing her to a phone and a Selectric typewriter.
But, as Evangeline Morphos, a Columbia University TV/Film Professor writing for the Wall Street Journal aptly explains: "The lyricism of Lloyd’s passion for technology echoes the way Don used to talk about advertising; and each man’s enthusiasm pits technology against creativity. This verbal sparring is far more complicated than two men bantering about the role of technology. It is really about whether or not Don will embrace the future."
In terms of early adopters, the fictious Sterling Cooper may have been ahead of its time, even though the world's oldest digital computer dates back to 1949 when the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell (WITCH aka the Harwell) was created by British scientists to help out at the UK's Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Oxfordshire. Regardless, the ad office losing its "lunch room" to the colossal computer is a major cultural moment within Matthew Weiner's historically fictitious landsacpe.
Computers began moving into ad agencies as early as the first half of the 60s "with as many as 25 agencies boasting them by 1968," according to AdAge. Notably, agency Grey had a subsidary that charged companies to use the computers called COM-STEP. Below include other computer-related innovations that popped up in 1969 and could feasibly affect the world of Mad Men.
- The ARPAnet is invented, aka The Godfather of The Internet.
- Intel releases what's considered the world's first semiconductor, the 4004. This semiconductor device provided, at a chip leve, the functions of a computer. It was used in calculators at first, but was soon found to have many other functions.
- The Honeywell Kitchen Computer is created, and in the winter of 1969 Neiman Marcus' Christmas catalog offered "to computerize your kitchen."
- IBM announced the IBM System/3 for small businesses, the first computer system to use Monolithic System Technology (MST) logic circuits (though realistically, the computer in last night's episode depicted an IBM 360, which was publically sold from 1965-1978).
- Also, this amazing commercial for a computer football game:
The floppy disc was invented in 1970, and although we'd be shocked if we saw Draper using anything that specific, we do expect to see more signs of a technological evolution over the course of Mad Men's remaining 10 episodes. The times they are a-changin'.