You’ve come a long way, techie!

It didn’t dawn on me for a while, but one day in the last couple of years I woke up and realized:  both the Dick Tracy two-way wristwatch TV and the AT&T/Bell’s picture phone had finally come to fruition, in terms of availability to the masses. 

It probably happened more than two years ago, but it got me thinking of the changes in technology, particularly in communication, that I’ve seen in my lifetime, particularly those who were predicted in those stories that attempted to forecast who soon we’d be living in a Jetsons world.

I was never a tinkerer as a child, never had the desire to tear something down to figure out how it worked and then try to put it back together again. But I was curious enough to want to read about things like that, and how things worked.   I’d read a nice book in fourth grade on how Alexander Bell developed and patented the telephone, and I had a vague understanding of how he could transmit electrical impulses and convert them to sound.

However, the mystery of how a viewable image was broadcast to a TV screen was beyond me.  Broadcast TV had reached the masses by the time I started to attend kindergarten, as had telephones.  To use them as personal communication devices, the way Dick Tracy did, or the way the Bell Telephone TV commercials said we’d do in the future?  That was – well, in the future, and a distant one at that.  We could put a man on the moon and bring him back safely, but we couldn’t have a picture phone or a wrist-watch TV.  Can you tell I was an impatient young lad back then?

Well, these things take time.  In 1974 I saw and used a computer terminal for the first time in high school, in which you read data from a teletype printer sheets.  In 1977 during my second year of college at Ohio StateI tried taking a computer science course at Ohio State, which involved using Fortran language encoded on keypunch cards.  Unfortunately, I was lost after the second week of the class, and had to withdraw.  I did take another computer science course two years later, which was an introduction to computers, especially the trend to personal computers, which I found enlightening and useful.

About a year after that course, I finally saw an actual personal computer  – very cool at the time, although it used a cassette tape as its data bank and programs were accordingly awkward to access.

I first used a personal computer on the job – the Apple II – when I turned 25.  It was used by clerks to learn how to keycodes for mail separation. It was simpler than I thought, you just put the floppy disk in the machine, turned it on, and let the trainee follow the directions.  Truthfully, what I called a floppy disk then was actually a “diskette”, only 5.25 inches square.  The secretary where I worked used the real floppy disks – 10-inch monsters the size of a vinyl record album – on her monstrous word-processing machine.

Time and change wait for no one, and they also go at their pace, not ours.  When we USPS employees were finally able to access the Internet at work sometime around 1995, I could see the big technological shift we were making – a lot had changed since I had learned to turn on the Apple II eleven years earlier.

When webcams and smart phones came out and communication protocols had improved to where you had acceptable video and audio, I realized the things that the impatient 10 year-old Joe Jankowski was waiting on back then had finally arrived.  I just wish the younger Joe could have been transported forward 40 years to see it at that age, and to feel the rush of excitement that only a 10 year-old can feel, instead of growing up to be the gray-haired guy in his 50’s who just grunted and mumbled “how about that” when he finally noticed it.

Occasionally I have moments when I look at my studio equipment, note how well it functions, see how easily I can view things on a huge monitor, and I marvel that technology is more accessible than ever.   I also marvel at the incredible speed of change in technology in the last 50 to 75 years, and how I would not have foreseen this happening as a younger man.

In Arthur C. Clarke’s book “3001: Final Odyssey”, the body of the astronaut who was killed by the HAL computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey” is retrieved by a space probe, and the medical technology available in 3001 AD is used to revive him, despite the fact he’d been dead for a thousand years.  The doctors tell the astronaut about the changes in technology that have occurred over the previous 1000 years, and tell the astronaut he is better able to absorb that 1000-year change because of when he grew up.   They postulate that a man who died in the year 1000 AD and was revived in 2000 AD would simply not be able to cope psychologically with the changes over that particular millennium.

I don’t know – I’d say the changes from the year 1900 AD to today would be traumatic enough for someone who’d been in suspended animation during that time.  Fortunately, I don’t think it’s a problem I’ll ever run up against.  However, I’m still miffed that we can’t fly to work in our air-cars, like George Jetson does.  Maybe one day …..

How about you readers out there?  What technology changes do you think have been the most dramatic in our lifetime?  How do you think you’d cope with a thousand years of new technology if you were revived after that amount of time?  I’d love to hear from you, just click on “Leave A Comment” at the top of this post  (please, no spam messages or solicitations, they will be removed).

Well, that’s all for this week.  Keep putting your best voice forward, with every bit of modern technology available to you – it’s still just another tool.  Take care.

 -Z-

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