The Evolution of Personal Computers and Educational Technology

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In the late 1980s, people were just getting used to personal computers. The first personal computer was invented in 1971, so naturally, people needed to be made aware of its various uses and benefits. So much so that a newspaper article was written in 1986 on the Amstrad company, highlighting how their sales were plummeting, despite the affordability of their computers (International Corporate Report, 1987.) In an effort to salvage their sales, the Amstrad marketing team had to come up with different uses for personal computers and market them to the general public.  For this assignment, I chose to look at a famous magazine advertisement highlighting one of many uses of the personal computer, published in 1988, analyzing how Amstrad constructs meaning about personal computers and their educational role. 

The advertisement, shown in Figure 1, underscores the educational benefits of having a personal computer, especially for kids. The language used in the advertisement is informal, as it is selling to a popular audience: parents. The advertisement is clearly trying to appeal to parents, specifically of children aged 2-12. It deploys a playful and exciting tone, to get its users intrigued by the many wonders of a personal computer. 

Figure 1. Source: Amstrad Computer User, vol. 7, no. 44, Jul. 1988, p. 20.

Visually, the advertisement looks organized with a few things highlighted. The first thing that stands out is the title which asserts that “Learning Should be Fun!” with pictures of games such as crossing the road, math games, and coloring games. The games are scattered in an orderly fashion with vivid colors, showcasing the many uses of their computer, they even have specified age groups on the left with the appropriate games they should play. The other thing that is highlighted is their budget-friendly prices, (“ONLY €5.95), clearly appealing to families who can afford a computer.

The reason why they highlight affordability can be understood when we try to look at the success of this company a year prior to this ad’s publishing, as the Amstrad computer was selling below expectations in 1987 (International Corporate Report, 1987.) Amstrad was well-known for personal users or even small businesses, but because of their affordable prices, they did not gain much traction with big corporations (International Corporate Report, 1987.) Instead, it can be inferred that the company was experimenting with new uses for their computers for the general population. Hence, the ad is directed towards parents.

The advertisement paints the Amstrad computer as affordable and family-friendly, leading to the company’s subsequent success. The ad associates its computer with education, underscoring the value of innovation with its product. It also emphasizes affordability, adaptability, and user-friendliness, as they’re trying to sell their computer as a technology with diverse uses for a wide range of audiences. This is reflected in their sales success in 1988. The Amstrad company was seen as an “entrepreneurial success story,” (L.R., 1988), representing a shift from the company struggles in 1987 to a successful technology that the common people used. The Amstrad company, through this advertisement and many others, was able to attract a wider audience by keeping their products affordable. Amstrad used a very successful pricing strategy, positioning their product as competitively priced, “The suggested retail price of the full system is $1,999, which would be a bit overpriced,” (L.R.,1988).

From this, we can infer how personal computers were being used at that time. The computer is represented as a versatile technology that can bring many benefits. While the advertisement does not explicitly depict online services, it reflects a shift in the era toward recognizing the educational potential of personal computers. In 1987, being online was still in its infancy, and the focus was primarily on personal computing as a standalone activity. This representation aligns with the broader cultural concepts and values of affordability, innovation, and family-friendliness. It reflects the evolving role of personal computers in the late 1980s, transitioning from being seen primarily as tools for productivity to tools for education and entertainment.


Works Cited

“International Corporate Report: An Amstrad Computer Sells Below Expectations.” Wall Street Journal Jun 22 1987, Eastern edition ed.: 1. ProQuest. 17 Sep. 2023.

Shannon, L. R. “PERIPHERALS; British Success Story Tries the States.” New York Times Feb 02 1988, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. ProQuest. 17 Sep. 2023.

Amstrad. “Amstrad Computer User.” Amstrad Computer User Magazine, vol. 7, no. 44, Jul. 1988, p. 20. 17 Sept. 2023. 

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