Week #8 – Technology: What are some of the technological advances that happened during your childhood? What types of technology to you enjoy using today, and which do you avoid?
Technology defines my life today and it has since I was four years old. There were so many technological advances in the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s that it is impossible to discuss them all. I have chosen several that have shaped the course of my life and society as a whole.
Personal Computers – DaD got our first computer, a Commodore VIC-20, in 1981 when I was four years old. He upgraded to a Commodore-64 in late 1982 and we never looked back. I was hooked on computers. He taught me how to program in BASIC and he would pay me to learn how to do new things like flash specific colors on the screen, code easy else-if statements and repeat text in patterns. I learned how to type before I learned how to write. I have always typed fast. That is still very true today; I still type at an average of 85 words per minute.
VHS – The ability to record something playing on television and play it back on a VCR was an incredible concept in 1983. Before VHS, there was no way to do this for television or movies at home.
Playing on our Packard Bell 386, 1988
Modems – We upgraded to a IBM PC 8088 and then to a Packard Bell 386 and 486 models over the next few years throughout the mid- to late-1980’s. With these new powerful personal computers came the advent of a personal modem. Our first modem was 1200 baud, but we quickly upgraded to 2400 then to the lightening fast 9600 baud rate. With this device you could use your telephone line to dial up to a bulletin board system (BBS) to interact with other users. One of the most popular BBS’s in the Tri-City area was called The Chocolate Malt BBS, run by Brian Gano in Bay City, Michigan. I used our modem for hours and hours every night, tying up our phone line playing games and posting messages for my friends on The Malt.
Video Game Consoles – Nintendo Entertainment System launched in 1985 and on Christmas 1987, my DaD gave me my very own console. I endlessly played my favorite games like Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Tetris, Metroid, Legend of Zelda: Adventures of Link, Dr. Mario, Bubble Bobble and Milon’s Secret Castle. I was always trying to get my DaD to play with me but he hated games. I was so good at Super Mario Bros that a condition of him playing the game with me was I had to play backwards looking in a hand mirror propped up on the coffee table. I played the game by reverse image and still beat it easily without thinking twice.
Pagers – In the late 1980’s my DaD was issued a pager by General Motors for work. This brand new concept involved a little black rectangular device that used a wireless signal to retrieve “pages” from thin air. All I had to do was dial DaD’s “pager number” on the telephone and punch in your phone number, and it would miraculously show up on his pager a few minutes later. He would get the page and call me back. Before pagers, if you needed to get ahold of someone and they weren’t at home you were just out of luck. You could leave a message on their “answering machine” and when they got home, they would call you back. If I needed DaD to call me back right away, I just added the number 911 to the end of the page, i.e. “7774564911.” Usually it meant that I wanted him to know Kathleen was being mean to me, or to ask if I could have a bowl of ice cream. I’m sure DaD must have hated his new technological wonder because it meant that I could bother him at work, and work could bother him at home, all hours of the day and night.
Getting my Nintendo on Christmas day, 1987
Microsoft Windows – I remember back in the disk operating system (DOS) days, my DaD sat next to me at the computer and said, “Someday soon, we’ll be able to run more than one computer program at the same time. We’ll be able to flip back and forth between two programs without closing them.” He was talking about Windows 3.0 – the future of home computing. I sat there in amazement. It was hard for me to conceive of a time when you wouldn’t have to close the first program before loading another one.
Hard Drives – Oh, how I don’t miss the days of 5 1/4″ and 3 1/2″ floppy disks. The invention of the hard drive for home use made it practical to store files without accidentally demagnetizing or breaking the floppy disks when they were laying around your house. Hard drives came with their own cons though, with data corruption and frozen disks causing headaches for the first few years. As they evolved, we started producing more and more data. Moore’s Law kicked into high gear in the 1980’s.
Keyless Entry – This isn’t a technological advance that many people think of when computers, cell phones and the internet are involved. Keyless entry was an important change in the mid 1980’s. Today we couldn’t imagine having to get out your keys and physically unlock your car door every time you want to enter your vehicle. Before this technology became mainstream, that’s precisely what we had to do. Now we just pull out our keys and push a button to unlock all the doors or open the trunk, and we’re off and running. Newest advances in this technology mean you don’t ever have to push a button at all. Just get near your vehicle and it will recognize you automatically, unlock itself, start itself and adjust the settings to suit your desires. The future still holds many advances in this area of technology.
Compact Discs – The demise of the record, album and cassette tape was begun by the introduction of the compact disk (CD) in the mid 1980’s. The ability to have beautiful quality sound repeated continuously without stopping to rewind the tape or reset the record player was a wonderful advancement. I remember going to DJ shows with my DaD playing wedding receptions and parties with his gig Rainbow Music prior to the mainstream use of CDs. We had two record players and two cassette tape players and would rotate between them playing music for the parties. Nowadays, DJs simply set up a laptop computer and queue up MP3 files. Instant party! What a difference 15 years has made.
ATM & Debit Cards – This is another advancement that often gets overlooked. When people think of technology today they often do not think about payment methods. When I was in junior high school, if you wanted money you drove up to the bank and withdrew it from your account from a live teller. If the bank was closed, you were out of luck. In high school, banks began installing automated teller machines (ATM) and issuing ATM cards so that you could access your money from the machine even when the bank was closed. By the time I got to college, many businesses began accepting those ATM cards, rebranding them Debit cards, for most purchases. Cash was pretty much a thing of the past by the time I had a job and the ability to spend my own money in 1995.
These are just a few of the incredible technological advances that occurred before I got out of high school. In college it was a whole new ball game: Email, the Internet, cell phones, DVDs, digital cameras and flatbed scanners all came into my life during my undergraduate studies at Arizona State University between 1995 and 1999. It was a fast and exciting time for technology throughout the world.
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