Thursday, April 14, 2011

Then, Now and Far Beyond...

   My job is many things, but boring and not mentally stimulating (for me anyway) is not one of them, but I find mental stimulation in, admittedly, the weirdest things. I stopped by a cubicle of a coworker and on his computer screen was a picture of a very, very old firetruck. Another coworker walked by and said “I used to drive that truck.” Really? I mean...really? THAT truck? In an instant I imagined what it must be like for him to witness the incredible leap in technology representing todays apparatus compared to his fond memories of driving the antique we were all looking at. Then my mind took off...
   I realized that there have been some incredible leaps in technology and drastic changes in lifestyle because of those leaps, that have happened right before my eyes. I don’t have to imagine what its like for my coworker because I’ve become him...we all will. I had a rotary phone growing up and it dialed so slow you’d need a Snickers bar to pass the time. If my friends weren’t home when I called, I had to go outside and look for them at all the usual hanging places...basically walk two or three neighborhoods. I could spend all day looking and still go home frustrated at never finding them because that day they decided to go Downtown or to Watertown or some such adventure. If you didn’t want to talk to certain people you had to ignore the phone completely because you had no idea who it was until you answered it. How handy would caller ID have been when my teacher was calling to talk to my mother? Today, the phone has become a complete device. Instant communication has replaced the much needed exercise searching the neighborhood provided and sent the pay phone the way of the Dodo. On the upside, it has put parents in contact with their children, assuming caller ID is not used maliciously, and has probably gotten more than one child out from under having to be in the house before the street lights come on.
   Undoubtedly the computer has had the most affect in the lives of everyone. Texas Instruments first handheld calculator sold for $5500 and they were practically giving it away within three years. Now, more goes into a computer the size of your fingernail than was in the two floors of MIT’s first supercomputer! Not to mention that computers are in everything now...and are the foundation for a global network by which these very words are read by people all over the world...really.
   Lets crawl down this rabbit hole real quick shall we? Cars now speak to you and park themselves. Money is electronic and accessible around the clock. Microwaves cook “food” in seconds. Since the arrival of microwave ovens, we have developed “instant” food to accommodate it, and home cooked meals are becoming a thing of the past. I’m not a fan of the microwave oven and can see how a family sitting together for a meal has given way to everyone doing their own thing (usually sitting in front of some kind of screen) while eating something that was prepared in minutes. I think its a detriment to the family unit not to eat together and share a meal.
   I remember having to adjust the “rabbit ears” on our black and white television and thinking the fuzzy picture I got was pretty decent considering what it had been before I started mucking with it. Now...not only do we have television in color, but we’ve got it in 3D! Not to mention that the huge heavy box it used to be has been trimmed down to something akin to a painting you hang on a wall. The staple of television used to be just six main channels and now I have to browse through six hundred to find the show I want. 
   A whole generation has no idea what it’s like to drop film off at the photoshop and wait for it to be developed. Those that still do it, do so at a high cost because what was once the normal technology and cheap to do is now the exception and, therefore, expensive. Everything has gone digital and instant. Cameras are in the phones now and can take a picture, crop it, and send it to the internet in minutes! In the time it took to wait for a role of film to be developed, you can make a digital album on the internet with thousands of pictures...but it doesn’t stop there.
   The progression of how I listen to music in the short time I’ve been on this planet is incredible when I really think about it. I used to listen to my mother’s records, which eventually developed into tapes (bring back the eight track)! Cassette tapes stopped when the compact disk came on the scene. I used to pride myself on being able to splice a broken tape back together using Scotch tape, a steady hand, and a lot of patience. Now its all digital and downloadable. Gone are the days of the walkman and flipping the tape over as you finish listening to a you’re lucky to get through all ten thousand songs on the Ipod. It’s the same way with movies. Although people still go to see them, the introduction of the VHS and the progression to DVD (and now Blue Ray) to simply digitally downloading or streaming them to your computer is having an impact on the industry. Gone are the days of the drive-in...and the wonderfully unique experience that came with it.
   I remember when writing was a big deal in school. Penmanship, good penmanship, was required since reading letters depended on it. Then typing took over as the standard which developed into email. Now texting is dominating how young people communicate and with it comes a new language...and abridged version of English. I dnt nd 2 typ ev wrd since my fngrs mve 100 mph. In thirty more years I won’t even be able to communicate with my own grandchildren. 
   I see the writing on the wall. I see it there since it won’t be in books least not anything I recognize as a book. They don’t even have paper anymore...just a screen that scrolls pages with the touch of a finger with page numbers replaced by a percentage of how much of the material has been read. Yes, I’m talking about device that will eventually replace my entire library. Call me old fashioned, but I like looking at all the different types of books in my library. The color, the sizes, the artwork, the texture...Kindle can reproduce every word in every book, but it can’t replace that.
   I used to sit at the top of my stairs as a child and play with toys (either cars or action figures) for hours and let my imagination run wild. Now children sit in front of a screen and have their imagination fed to them. I find it a daunting thought to contemplate where technology and society will be when my children look back on the iPhone and Xbox 360 the way I look back on 8 track tapes...and that old firetruck.


  1. we need to instill in our children the value of imagination and the power in creative thinking!

  2. You are right. Imagination and creative thinking are the vehicles that have brought us this far...and it's ironic that the journey has taken us to a place where those vehicles are being junked.