Man in a Briefcase

​​P. Atkinson, 'Man in a Briefcase: The Social Construction of the Laptop Computer and the Emergence of a Type Form'
Journal of Design History  18(2): 2005: 191-205


Dominant design discourse of the late 1970s and early 1980s presented the laptop computer as the result of 'inevitable' progress in a variety of technologies. While the laptop was a revolutionary product, such a narrative dismisses a series of products which predated the laptop but which had much the same aim, and to deny a social drive for such products, which had been in evidence for a number of years before the technology to achieve them was available. This article shows that the social drive for the development of portable computing came in part from the 'macho mystique' of concealed technology that was a substantial motif in popular culture at that time.

This work explores the development of the first real laptop computer, the GRiD 'Compass', in the context of its contemporaries. The consequent trajectory of laptop computer design is then traced to show how it has become a product which has a mixture of associated meanings to a wide range of consumers. In this way, the work explores the role of consumption in the development of digital technology.


A text only version of this article can be downloaded for free from the SHURA website.

The full article can be accessed or purchased from the JDH website.