My Life in Technology

I remember…

  • All telephones being big and black and having dials
  • Televisions housed in beautiful wooden cabinets as a matter of course. They were black and white, of course.
  • The transistor radio section at the department store. Six transistor radios were groovy.
  • Feltboards in school.
  • Slide rules. (Listed under “Obsolete Skills” on my CV.)
  • Going on a field trip with my class to see a computer at the university. It took up a whole room, which we weren’t allowed to enter – only look in through an observation window.
  • The first personal computers.
  • Splicing tape for reel-to-reel tape recorders. I was brilliant at it.
  • The beginning of direct dialing for long distance calls.
  • Key punch cards for programming those big computers.
  • Telex machines with punched tape. Another of my obsolete skills: telex operator.
  • The beginning of the Internet.
  • Sending my first fax and making a photocopy so I’d have one for the files. (What? It doesn’t disintegrate on this end, speed through the wire and reintegrate over there?) Also their fax had to be compatible with your fax for it to work.

That was a random list. Thinking about those things led me to wander around the interwebs until I found the 20th Century Timeline at About.com Inventors. Here is what I learned.

The year I was born is notable for the invention of tetracycline and the optic fiber. The next year, the first computer hard disk was used. More importantly, the hovercraft was invented. (I wonder how quickly it filled up with eels.) The year before my birth, however, saw at least four inventions that changed the face of world culture: birth control pills, Teflon cookware, the solar cell, and… the founding of McDonalds. Barbie dolls are several years younger than me. Sigh.

Valium was invented while I was in elementary school. Rumors of a causal relationship are exaggerated at best. Handheld calculators, the artificial heart and bar-code scanners were invented while I was in junior high.

I quit reading at about that point. Sitting at my desk I see a cordless telephone, a mobile “smartphone”, and  a desktop computer that is only about four centimeters thick and is far, far more powerful than the ones that put John Glenn into orbit around the earth on  February 20, 1962. Heck, the smartphone is, too. I’m wearing a cordless USB headset and looking at the scanner-fax-printer, also cordless, for my home network. And so on.

This is the paragraph where I should make a wry comment, but I can’t think of one. Technology changes; people don’t. What do you remember from childhood that is very different today?