RETROSPECT In the Beginning Was the CRT

By George Dyson

Once upon a time, there was no distinction between memory and display.

image Introduced in 1897, the cathode-ray tube brought us oscilloscopes, television, radar, computer terminals, the electron microscope, and, 110 years later, YouTube. But the hum of flyback transformers, by which so much code was written, is at an end. As the last generation of warmblooded monitors vacates our desks, let us remember that the cathode-ray tube’s contribution to digital computing began as internal memory, not external display.

Conventional CRTs display the state of a temporary memory buffer whose contents are ...

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