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?

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6 Responses

  1. Maxine D says:

    Operators for phone calls through a manual exchange. Banking passbooks written in by hand, the electronic adding machine my father used to calculate wages on,….. etc!!!

  2. I remember the messiness of carbon paper (the only remnant of which is the “cc” on my emails now). I remember trying out the new “digital dial” at Disneyland in Tomorrowland, where you actually pressed the numbers rather than dialing them on a rotary dial. Speaking of which, I remember how tiresome a number like 997-0809 would be: it took so long to dial. I remember having to sit in my parents’ bedroom to speak to my girlfriend on the phone; it was either that or standing in the kitchen where everyone could hear everything because the phones were wired directly into the wall. The phones were owned by the phone company. There were three or four models available, and the “princess phone” was quite a fashion statement. it cost extra each month to rent. https://www.msu.edu/~atchiso5/princess.jpg I also remember phone numbers that started with words to indicate the telephone exchange they went through. Ours was Regent. My uncle and aunt’s was Keystone.

    I remember watching gas pumps when the numbers were painted on little tumblers that would spin around as the station attendant filled your tank and cleaned your windshield. (When I first started driving, the gallons would spin faster than the dollars; now it’s the opposite.) I remember the first gas pump I saw with a digital display. It had every number separately shaped in wire in one tube and the current number would light up.

    I remember my first plane flight. I was 17 and headed to college in another state. It was a big deal for me to be on a plane. It seemed so exotic and, well, rich. It was a jet and that alone made it quite a deal. It wasn’t like the propeller planes or turbo-props that you often saw at our closest regional airport.

    The wonder of instant photos was something that really struck me. We had to be sure we wanted a photo because you could only take 10 photos a cartridge and the cartridges were expensive (at least to my family), but once you took it, you watched it develop before your eyes instead of waiting days for it to come back at the pharmacy. It was amazing. http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P4-qWcah3s0/TivODl7Mb9I/AAAAAAAAAfw/5PYlQmxnFrk/s1600/polaroid%2Bone%2Bstep%2B600.jpg

  3. Knot Telling says:

    That’s brilliant, James! Every single item brought back a stream of memories. Thank you!

  4. kb says:

    I love the illustration you chose. Of course. Knitting slide-rule adepts unite!

  5. Knot Telling says:

    Did you notice that the needles are at a very strange angle? I don’t think the cartoonist had ever knit…

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