The “Computer” exhibition of Lausanne. Part 1: A first overview

This paper is part of a dossier about the “Computer” exhibition, taking place in Lausanne 1978-2004.   This dossier includes a series of articles to be published over the coming weeks. In this first one, I present my methodological choices, the corpus studied, and the main periods of “Computer”.

by Pierre-Yves Hurel

In what specific cultural and technological environment did video games emerge in French-speaking Switzerland? What are the regional particularities that need to be taken into account here? How was the computerization  covered by the local press? To answer these questions, I decided to study the media coverage of the “Computer” exhibition. The show was held biannually, then annually from 1978 to 2004 in Lausanne-Beaulieu. Enormous halls then were home to the world’s and local computer industry’s finest, spread out over multiple stands equipped with computers, goodies, and explanatory leaflets. In between the aisles, senior executives came in search of “IT solutions” and curious onlookers came to discover the newest “cutting-edge” machines.

Methodological choices

To study the “Computer” trade fair, I compiled an initial corpus (with the invaluable help of Johan Cuda, student assistant on the Confoederation Ludens project) of 170 articles published between 1978 and 2004. The articles collected come from publications that are all accessible via “letempsarchives.ch” – a historical search tool developed by the newspaper Le Temps – and its usual search engine (letemps.ch). By cross-referencing the period of publication of the newspapers and the trade show I thereby selected articles from La Gazette de Lausanne (LGL), Le Journal de Genève (LJG), Le Nouveau Quotidien (LNQ) and Le Temps. It should be noted that only a minority of these articles actually come from Le Temps, for three reasons: firstly, this journal began publication in 1998, secondly, the exhibition was already in decline at that time, and thirdly, it is likely that the preservation of articles from this newspaper is less exhaustive than that of the other publications. This first corpus will be studied systematically in the first five articles of this dossier.

A second corpus of articles from the 24 heures archives has been compiled (via scriptorium.bcu-lausanne.ch) to provide contrast on the treatment of “Computer” – this corpus will be presented in a distinct article. I also make occasional reference to additional information obtained from other sources, notably articles from 01 Informatique on smaky.ch, or from the RTS and TVRL television archives.

I chose these newspapers, which had a significant impact in French-speaking Switzerland, to understand how the show was perceived locally and how they presented the rampant computerization of the years under study.

The articles in the corpus were collected using two search methods:

  1. The main collection method was to use the exact string “Computer 78” (to be used for each year in which the show took place: 78, 80, 82, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97 – then via the Le Temps search engine in 98, 99 and finally “Computer-expo” for the 2000 to 2004 editions=.
  2. A second method was to  search for associated words without mentioning the year (“Salon AND Lausanne AND Beaulieu AND Computer”), which enabled us to cross-check our results.

It is therefore possible that some articles may have slipped through the net, despite all our precautions and verification measures, due to the tool’s margin of error or possible errors in headings, or even alternative wording choices (we could imagine articles talking about the “salon de l’informatique de Lausanne ” and not “Computer”). As it stands, however, we are convinced to have an almost exhaustive sample.

To reduce the sample (to 170 articles), we excluded from the corpus:

  • 46 identical articles in several publications.
  • The numerous mentions of the show in cultural agendas (see here for an example).
  • A few articles mention the “Computer” trade fair in a marginal way, with no contribution to our research. For example, see the announcement of a natural medicine trade show “to be held at the same time as Computer 89”.

As the entire corpus is French-speaking, I’ve decided to translate all the quotations in the text, to lighten the reading load.

A diachronic, heterogeneous corpus of random quality

Before getting into the analysis, let’s take a look at the corpus. In the articles collected, we find a good part of short articles (63 articles equivalent to an eighth of a page or less) as well as short articles based on press releases or dispatches (30 articles signed with the name of the press agency, 9 articles marked as press releases by the words “(c)” or “(com.)”). In the first years of the sample, we even find entire dossiers that appear to be informercial content. But this does not mean in any way that these are not interesting sources for us: this format, which was a bit out of the ordinary concerning this subject at the time, tends to be pedagogical and therefore is a very interesting source for analyzing a discourse on computers and computer science.

For example: in 1980, there were two three-page dossiers, on April 21 in the Journal de Genève, and on April 22 in the Gazette de Lausanne. These two dossiers strongly resemble press kits, with press releases from the Microtel club, the PTT and other actors on one side, but also sidebars reviewing the technological inventions of previous decades. It was not until 1986 that advertorials all but disappeared from the pages of the magazine (before making a remarkable but isolated reappearance in 1992: three pages detailing the new products presented at the show, two of which are marked as press releases).


Example of an information box in a dossier that was probably an advertorial
published in the Journal de Genève on April 21, 1980.

Articles with journalistic added value are rare before 1986 – with the exception of an in-depth articles by Marielle Stamm in 79-80 – reputed to be the first journalist specializing in IT in French-speaking Switzerland (see the well-documented portrait of her on the Musée Bolo website), columnist for 01 Informatique and founder of IB Magazine. From 1986 to 1992, there are 19 articles by Denise Jeanmonod – another woman journalist who also passed through 01 informatique, but whose career seems far less documented than that of her colleague. From 1992 to 1995, we can still find articles signed “in collaboration with IB Magazine”. Then, from 1995 onwards, the treatment of the trade show (and IT in general?) seems to revert to the prerogative of the in-house editorial team. It should be noted that, apart from Stamm and Jeanmonod, other writers never signed more than six articles dedicated to the exhibition.

Examining the titles of the articles helps us to understand how the position of computer topics has changed within the newspapers. Until 1986, the “Computer” trade show was covered alternately in the “Economy and Business” or “Pays de Vaud” pages – a foreshadowing of two themes that will be found overwhelmingly in the corpus: the impact of computerization on a particular professional sector, and the importance of situating Lausanne on the map of Switzerland or even the world in terms of IT. From 1986 to 1994, the show was covered mainly in an “IT news” section (“Nouvelles informatiques”), or in special sections created for the occasion: “Spécial Computer 87”, “Computer 88”, or even just “Computer”. From 1994 onwards, the show is mainly covered in the “Information Technology” section (“Informatique”), a sign that this sector has now evolved to its own category.

It should also be noted that the articles can be classified according to the time of publication in relation to the show: First, there are the numerous articles (generally news briefs and press releases) announcing the exhibition. Some of these articles follow-up on from the organizers’ annual press conference and include some tasty quotes. Second, there are articles that are published during the show itself, they report on current trends. The fair is then generally understood as a reflection of IT trends in general, the embodiment of IT so to sepak. Finally only a handful of articles are published once the doors of “Computer” have closed, and usually to announce its success (even when it is quite relative). Finally, a few articles mention “Computer” in the margins (for example, to point out that a company profiled in the columns has visited “Computer”), without necessarily deeming it necessary to present it.

In this article by Michelle Talandier, with the “collaboration” of IB Magazine, the “Computer 92” trade show is simply mentioned as the place to see HP’s new printer in action.

Finally, the tone is overwhelmingly smooth: very little criticism can be found in the columns of the various newspapers in the first corpus (excluding 24 Heures, that is) – except for a rather spectacular front page in the Gazette de Lausanne in 1984, to which we will return later. Without going as far as a sociomedia analysis that would study the social or financial links between the publications and the actors cited, this is not very surprising: the local press tends to spare its relations with local actors, more so when they are regular sources of information and advertising inserts.

Although every edition of the “Computer” exhibition is covered in the press studied, it manages relatively well to avoid becoming a seasonal feature, notably by reinventing itself and highlighting new themes every year.

Diachronic view of “Computer”

Journalists often refer to the show as the epitome of IT: “Computer” is the local fair where technological advances that will have an impact not only on the present but also on the future, are reported. It is also the barometer of the IT industry. The fair is seen as an opportunity to measure the progress of digitalisation. Three metrics recur regularly in the corpus: the number of exhibitors, the number of visitors, and the square meters occupied. Is the market experiencing double-digit growth? Then the show is growing. Is a crisis looming? Then the show is shrinking, or, on the contrary, succeeds thanks to the responsiveness of its organizers.

It must be said that the stakes are high for the organizers: the “Computer” trade show is used, among other things, to finance a training institute. The barometer remained relatively reliable until the general collapse of technology exhibitions in the early 2000s. I’ve divided the life of “Computer” into several periods, which could serve as an indication of the history of computerization in French-speaking Switzerland itself.

Year Exhibitors Public
1978 63 4500 6000
1980 200 9000 13000
1982 114 n.c. 14000
1984 140 12000 (p)16000
1985 222 16000 18000
1986 246 17000 (20 000) 23400
1987 302 25000 26000
1988 340 25000 (p)30000
1989 370 31000 30600
1990 410 31000 n.c.
1991 450 33000 30000
1992 N.C. 31000 33000
1993 370 25000 30000
1994 400 22000 34000
1995 387 20000 36000
1996 410 28000 37000
1997 n.c. n.c. n.c.
1998 n.c. n.c. n.c.
1999 n.c. n.c. n.c.
2000 480 (530) n.c. 37000
2001 380 n.c. (p) 25 000
2002 256 n.c. 13 000
2003 120 8000 (p) 10 000
2004 n.c. n.c. 4100
“Computer” in figures in the corpus.

The table above shows the number of exhibitors, gross square meters, and visitors for each year, if these figures are mentioned in the press. The indication “(p)” means that this is a figure put forward as a projection, and “n.c.” means that the figure is not known. In the future, these gaps should be filled in via other archives (press releases, another newspaper’s study, or the organizers’ archives). Where two figures are quoted for the same information, we indicate both. Finally, it should be noted that these are the figures given by the organizers.

Broadly speaking, three periods can be distinguished:

  • From 1978 to 1987, the show grew steadily from a few thousand visitors to over 25,000. In 1984, Computer became an annual event. This was a period of rapid computerization in various sectors of the economy.
  • From 1987 to 2000, the figures for the show remained regular (although not without its difficulties, as we shall see later), with between 300 and 500 exhibitors and always over 30,000 visitors. Information technology is gradually becoming a part of people’s habits, but the need for a show where new products can be exhibited and explained is still felt. The organizers themselves seem satisfied with this cruising speed, claiming that “there simply aren’t many more than 30,000 professional IT users eager to learn about the latest developments in the field every year”.
  • The figures then gradually declined, until the final year, 2004, when visitor numbers were lower than for the first edition. On the one hand, the word “computer” has lost its exotic attraction. It now become a common word. On the other hand new means of communication have made trade shows obsolete in the eyes of the public and exhibitors alike.

One first conclusion therefor would be that the “Computer” trade show played an important role in local life of Lausanne and the french speaking part of Switzerland, regularly appearing in the columns of the newspapers studied, and welcoming tens of thousands of visitors. The evolution of the show is closely linked to the evolution of a certain kind of computing, and readers of the present dossier are invited to beware of the chronological crushing effects that writing can provoke.

In the next article, I’ll be talking about esprit romand and the Röstigraben barrier.


Recommended citation: Pierre-Yves Hurel, “The “Computer” exhibition of Lausanne. Part 1: A first overview”, in: Confoederatio Ludens, https://chludens.hypotheses.org/544, 30.08.2023



Cite this blog post
Pierre-Yves Hurel (2023, August 30). The “Computer” exhibition of Lausanne. Part 1: A first overview. Confoederatio Ludens. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/mr8v

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