Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Everyday technology

My grandmother was born before the Wright Brothers took their first flight and she lived to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. I've often used those milestones to give myself an idea of the speed of progress in the 20th Century. This weekend, I got to thinking not about the huge and miraculous technological advances of our era, but the everyday things we grew up with, many of which were unknown in our parents' time or even in the time of people just a few years older than we are. I asked several family members these three questions.

1. What technology do you remember being "always around" that wasn't around when your parents were kids?

2. What technology do you remember when it was introduced when you were a kid?

3. What not necessarily new technology do you remember seeing for the first time?


My father was born the year Al Jolson starred in The Jazz Singer, so talkies were the standard by the time he knew what a movie was and silent films were shown in theaters only in "nostalgia" showings. The amazing yet everyday advances he remembers from his youth include Technicolor movies, automatic transmissions and power windows in cars, clothes dryers and air conditioning.

My older brother Michael remembers when the family did not have a television. He wasn't yet in kindergarten when we got our first, so my recollection that TV was "always around" is accurate. He also remembers riding in a car that had no seat beats and taking the ferry to Marin County before the construction of the San Rafael Bridge. He recalls that Grandpa Hubbard was the first person he knew that owned a microwave oven, and my dad's brother Uncle Bill owned both a Polaroid camera and a stereo record player before we did. His memory of the record player includes being forced to listen to Mitch Miller.

For me, TV is just a thing that was always there, but I do recall our first color set. I don't want it to seem like I spent all my time watching TV, but I also recall when we went from five TV stations on VHF to about ten or so with the new UHF receiver. I also recall stereo vs. mono record players and the Polaroid camera. While it wasn't new technology, I distinctly remember when the Goodyear blimp first came to town and how fascinating it was to watch something that big and that slow fly at such low altitude. I was a senior in high school when the first rich kid could afford a hand held calculator. It cost $350, ate up batteries like nobody's business and had about the same computing power as a calculator that costs about $5 now.

For my younger sister Karlacita!, color TV was always a part of her memory. She remembers the introduction of 8-track cassettes and videotape players. Her son was five when his father got him his first video game console, which Karlacita! considered a pointless extravagance.

Let me ask my readers the same three questions and invite them to put answers in the comments.

1. What technology do you remember being "always around" that wasn't around when your parents were kids?

2. What technology do you remember when it was introduced when you were a kid?

3. What not necessarily new technology do you remember seeing for the first time?


namastenancy said...

I will be showing my age if I mention seeing my first TV set. Of course, I was a Navy Brat and we just didn't have TV in a lot of the places where my father was stationed. I don't even remember if everybody had telephones! The list of tech that's always around now - vs when my parents were kids - is endless. The Internet and all its offspring and jet planes are what I think of first. The changes in my grandparent's lifetimes are truly amazing - from horse and buggy in the deep South in the 1890's to a man on the moon in 1963. Amazing.

Abu Scooter said...

I quickly came up with several answers to these questions, but the one that stood out to me is the refrigerator-freezer set. I've lived with those all my life, but my parents were always telling us about using iceboxes as kids.

One thing that came along when I was a kid was the remote control, particularly for TV sets. The first one my family used had only six buttons (power on/off, channel up/down and volume up/down), but even that made watching TV cooler.

dguzman said...

1. TV--from black and white to living color, we always had a TV. My parents didn't have TV when they were kids; I don't think that was around for them (or they were certainly too poor to afford it). They're in the mid-70s.

2. VCRs and Atari Pong. Wow.

3. Desktop computers. I was blown away.

Matty Boy said...

Abu S.: The remote control is an under appreciated part of the technological panorama.

I wasn't a kid, but I remember when it became really easy to transcribe a record or CD to audio tape. The great art form of the mix tape! Will the young people even recall it in future times?

Dr. Zaius said...

I remember when we had a black and white and television, but what was really memorable about that time was watching TV before Koit Tower was built. The difference in reception before and after was remarkable.

Samsung 2333HD review said...

Yep... I remember only three (well four if we managed UHF) channels, too. I remember turning it off, and the picture shrinking to a white dot in the middle of the screen! (And the 3-5 minute warm ups!)

Then we got a color set (bad color by today's standards, but still good!) Then cable started and we got 12 whole channels!