The Golden Anniversary of Tablet Computing

Pardon me if I resort to reminiscing while writing my inaugural blog, but I want to start at the roots of my technological career. Memories of my first tablet computer are being resuscitated from over fifty years ago. It was invented in relative obscurity in the mid-1950s by Frenchman Andre Cassagnes. But the Ohio Art Company made the Etch A Sketch the must-have mobile device for every budding graphic artist in the early 1960s. I got my “EAS” halfway through first grade.

The EAS tablet had a remarkably minimalistic and intuitive interface. As a 6-year-old artist, I struggled to keep my Crayola smudges between the lines. But with the high-tech EAS I created stunningly accurate images of any object…in two shades of gray. Which isn’t as bland as it sounds; recall that the whole world was monochromatic until 1961 when “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” premiered on NBC.

Speaking of premieres, my EAS art yearned for a public debut and soon enough the opportunity came – it was time for Show and Tell. Not only would my technology-enhanced artistic talents be displayed, but simultaneously I could finally impress the woman I had become mesmerized with…my first grade teacher. It almost seemed too easy, but this puppy love still had its obstacles.

She was old…at least 24 or 25.

And I was so shy that I turned fifty shades of red whenever I caught her attention.

And she was a nun.

Unfazed, I spent several hours crafting an intricate image. Only one challenge remained…safely carrying the EAS with its “volatile memory” the nine blocks up Delridge Way to my school. I held the EAS perfectly level in my outstretched “shock absorber” arms for the 20 minute walk.

And finally, I was in the classroom doorway.

“And I saw her standing there. Well, my heart went boom. When I crossed that room.”

And she smiled. And reached out her arms. And gleefully grabbed my Etch A Sketch. And swiftly flipped it over. And shook it.

Inconsolable…in the instant the EAS image disintegrated, my world imploded. Of course, my world imploded if one of my siblings got a bigger slice of pie. Still, sulking seemingly was the sole solution to such sorrow (although sometimes alliteration would also make me feel better). I moped and missed most of the other Showers and Tellers, although I do recall Patrick and his rickshaw.

And I remember the twin brothers. They stood proudly in front of the classroom, each holding a corner of the largest American flag I had ever seen that close up. Then they folded it, very carefully and very formally, first lengthwise, a time or two, and finally several times in a triangular shape. Then they walked together, and with beaming smiles, handed the flag to their mommy, just as the soldiers had done at the funeral for their daddy, a casualty of the conflict in Vietnam.

Inconsolable? I couldn’t imagine what their mommy possibly could have said to her sons. But although I couldn’t articulate my thoughts then, it was comforting to realize that there was someone who did know what to say and do in the midst of tragedy and trauma.

Now, half a century after the dawn of the Etch a Sketch, I once again find myself working with innovative technology. And here at T2, it is a privilege to work alongside health care professionals who also know what to say and do in the midst of the traumas inherent in the lives of our military families. At T2, we are utilizing technology to transform the delivery of health care to these families. I look forward in future blogs to sharing stories of our progress in this important endeavor.

Brian Doherty is a Program Manager at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2) where he coordinates the efforts of a team of software developers and graphic artists.  Brian leverages an extensive background in software development with Fortune 500 companies to develop iOS apps supporting the military community.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Read other posts by Mr. Brian Doherty