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From The Archives: In 1989, 'Datatech' Showed N.H. Fax Machines and Other "Future" Technology

Courtesy ajmexico via Flickr / Creative Commons /

Predicting the future of technology is never easy. The incredible capabilities of the smartphone in my pocket today were nearly inconceivable in 1989.

That’s when NHPR’s Leslie Bennett made this fateful comment:

“It seems like telephones have gotten as complicated as they’re ever going to get. I may regret saying that.” 

Ouch – sorry, Leslie. She was speaking from Datatech ’89, a business technology trade show in Manchester. The vendors she spoke with shared their visions for office technology in the ‘90s and beyond:

“These fax machines can talk back and forth to each other. And we do have some that are live, actually hooked up to live telephone lines … We can talk to Japan if we want to, or Russia, or anywhere else.” 

That’s right … fax machines were a hot item in 1989. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? What exciting gadget from today will be a fossil tomorrow?

From The Archives this week, we revisit Leslie Bennett’s story from Datatech ’89.

At the time, Datatech ’89 was the largest business communications trade show in northern New England. Over 50 exhibition booths contained telecommunications systems, mini computers, intelligent networks, and color laser copiers. 

Gone were the days when a desk, a phone, and a typewriter could do the job of a technologically advanced office. According to people at Datatech, the wave of high technology had reached into the world of business offices. Keeping up to date meant greater efficiency and staying competitive.

It seemed a whole new vocabulary was needed to understand what technology was available to all kinds of businesses.

A walk around the exhibit revealed tables of telephones, computers, facsimile machines, copiers, and even video cameras. It seemed a whole new vocabulary was needed to understand what technology was available to all kinds of businesses.

“We’re really glad to have the opportunity to show all this equipment, because there are a lot of people that don’t really know yet what the capabilities are,” one vendor said.

A question-and-answer session with a few other marketers uncovered more technology trends:

Q: It sure seems like people can’t afford to be without a computer these days.

A: Computers are pretty popular items. Everybody talked about a computer in every home. We see a lot of interesting possibilities for work at home type arrangements, and different things like that, where you don’t really actually need to have a bunch of people in a certain location.

Q: Ten years ago, a business had a computer or used a computer for a certain number of things. Now, it seems like computers are being used in general, across the board, for a large variety of office maintenance that used to be delegated. How is that going to be changing the marketplace?

Credit Courtesy Fernando Clavijo via Flickr / Creative Commons /
Courtesy Fernando Clavijo via Flickr / Creative Commons /

A: Generally now the new PCs can work off the same cabling as the phone systems. So instead of cabling for both the computer and then the telephone system, now all you have to do is cable for your phone system. And by using the digital equipment you can interface with the computer. So it saves the customer a lot of time and money.

Q: What do you see happening in the next era of technology?

A: I think what you’re going to see more of is more voicemail, where you’re going to get a lot more recorded voices or the personal greeting, rather than having someone do the monotonous job of taking a lot of messages. And I think screens on the telephone is something you’re going to see, where you’re actually going to be able to see the telephone number that called you. Just more information coming over the telephone lines.

Q: The telephone screen is reminiscent of the Jetsons’ TV series. When do you think that would happen?

A: I have no idea when it might happen. I think that more than seeing the person themselves, is that you’ll see information – who’s calling you, or the phone number. I think you’re going to see it a lot more in police and fire stations; they’re going to all have that feature. They can actually see the number that’s calling them so that they know, if it’s an emergency situation, the person’s name and their address without the person having to tell them.

Datatech ’89 was the show’s second year. Along with the displays were seminars on how to use tomorrow’s technology, with topics like “Space Planning,” “Selecting the Right Phone System,” and “How to Use Electronic Mail.”

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