This story is from Texas Monthly’s archives. We have left it as it was originally published, without updating, to maintain a clear historical record.
The discovery of Spindletop in 1901 was oil’s dramatic entry into Texas, and the boom that followed, with four hundred wells drilled in twenty months, signaled the ascendancy of an industry that would in a very short time come to dominate Texas. Today, for better or for worse, that domination is challenged both by stagnation in the oil industry and by the allure of an entirely different industry—indeed, an entirely different world—whose promise, romance, and mystery beckon almost sensuously. That industry is known by the unsensuous name “high tech.”
No dramatic event like Spindletop announced its arrival. But on some unseen cue, like the way fans at a baseball game spontaneously start clapping in unison, everyone in Texas was hailing high tech as the savior of the state’s economy, a savior that arrived just when it seemed the oil boom was over for good. But is high tech really that savior? Harry Hurt III’s “Birth of a New Frontier” details the extent of the high-tech industry already in place in Texas and speculates about its future growth. Joseph Nocera’s “Death of a Computer” chronicles Texas Instruments’ disastrous adventure in the home computer market and shows that there are as many pitfalls in the world of high tech as there are in oil. David Kramer’s “It’s a High-Tech Life” describes three Texans who have relinquished their lives to the computer and who, like the wildcatters of the past era, hope to make their fortunes in this uncharted new field. Finally, Scott Lubeck’s “Look, Ma, My Computer Did It!” puts some of the more whimsical new computer programs through their paces to give us the horoscope of the State of Texas, some stock tips, and advice on football betting.
Cotton and cattle ruled Texas in the nineteenth century. Oil has ruled in this century and rules today. Whether or not high tech will make Texas’ future is the question that the stories in this special issue ponder.