What the sudden mania for anniversaries says about the computer industry

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THE iPod is five years old this autumn. It already has its own biography*, by the journalist Steven Levy, who considers the gizmo an icon of modern times. Its birthday generated glowing tributes in newspapers from India to Egypt to Brunei. And this is just one of the many anniversaries that the computer industry has seen fit to celebrate this year.

Last month the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California hosted a symposium commemorating the 35th anniversary of Intel's 4004 microprocessor, which revolutionised computing by combining disparate functions into a single chip and was Intel's first step towards becoming the world's biggest chipmaker. Other notable dates this year include the 25th birthday of the IBM personal computer, the 50th anniversary of the first hard-disk drive and the 60th anniversary of the first general-purpose digital electronic computer, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), which weighed 27 tonnes and contained over 19,000 vacuum tubes. Never before has the computer industry seemed so preoccupied by such historical milestones.

“History”, said Cicero, “illuminates reality, vitalises memory, provides guidance in daily life.” By that measure, there is a lot of illumination and guidance going on in Silicon Valley. Any excuse to celebrate an anniversary is seized upon and milked for all it is worth. Why?

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