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Pen still mightier than the computer

NOT long ago the computer was being trumpeted as the latest labor-saving device for the American family. No home, it was implied, should dare to be without one. That was then. This is now, and both computermakers and families are singing a different tune.

The home computer market turns out to be still undefined, and potentially far smaller than optimists had once thought. It may be that there is hardly any home computer market at all, except for people who use computers in their home to do part of their business work or to do a lot of writing.

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Several manufacturers of small home computers have given up the business; the latest was IBM, which dropped its PC jr line. Some couldn't sell enough computers; others found cash registers began to jingle only when prices dipped so low that profit disappeared.

Some folks who've bought home computers find they're less useful than anticipated. They've discovered the monthly bank statement can be resolved as easily with a $5 calculator as a $900 computer, for instance. For them the computer isn't one of the time-and-labor saving devices they no longer can live without, like the washing machine and the electric refrigerator.

In American society as a whole, computers continue to have a vital and developing role. In the long run a strong business, research, and organizational market exists, although at present there is a lull because some computer manufacturers produced too many at once.

Society continues to find genuinely helpful new uses for computers. For instance, they're being used experimentally in a Detroit courtroom, as reported in this newspaper last Friday.

But home computers have, in part, become an elitist plaything, with less of a broad public base than anticipated.

Irrespective of what computermakers ultimately do, scribbling-by-hand will never entirely go away. The pen and pencil continue to show remarkable versatility. And thought is still the best computer around. ----30{et

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