Sea change in technology in my lifetime

Posted on May 19, 2021



In my last blog I wrote about my most favorite DIY project – building my own desktop computer. In this blog I thought I’d stay in the technology arena but have some fun talking about the sea change that has occurred during my lifetime in the world of technology, especially the technology behind phones, television and music / radio. I know that many of the readers of this blog have also witnessed this same technological transformation and can relate to a lot what I’m going to write about.

Let’s start with phones. Not much has to be said about the power of today’s smartphones. The typical iPhone now has more than 100,000 times the computing power of the computer that put the first humans on the moon in 1969! But back in the day when I was a wee lad phones were a little more simpler. In fact, remember how Sheriff Taylor and Barney on Andy Griffith always picked up the phone and asked Sara, Mayberry’s telephone operator, to be connected to whoever they’re calling? Well, that was how it was where I lived when I was in the first grade! It was great because even a seven year old could talk to the operator and ask to be connected to their little friend down the street. In a few years we moved up to a single rotary dial phone BUT we had a party line! You always had to pickup the phone and first listen to see if someone else on the party line was talking before dialing! If so, then you waited ten minutes and checked again. I’d like to see today’s kids deal with that! Still later on we added a second phone upstairs and even went for touch tone service. No more dialing! Of course cordless phones came along eventually and now we have phones all through the house and take it all for granted.

I’ve seen the same kind of transformation in television technology. My first recollection of watching TV was on a black and white Magnavox with tubes that had to warm up before the picture came on. And who remembers having to fiddle with those vertical and horizontal hold dials in order to get a clear picture? There were no more than five stations to chose from too. At midnight the national anthem was played and the stations went off the air, displaying only the “test” pattern or static all night long! Then came along solid state TVs and color TVs with remote controls. The number of stations to view was still limited until cable TV came along. We were SO excited to get our first cable TV service with about 15 stations on a push button “remote” that was attached to our TV with a long wire. Our first cable bill was only $10 / month! Of course today’s cable offers hundreds of stations and when you factor in the streaming channels it goes into the thousands! And today’s televisions are huge, thin and unbelievably clear.

Finally I’d like to talk about radio and music technology. I remember my mom listening to her favorite AM radio personalities on WABC from NYC on a little tube radio. Then transistor radios became the big fad so you could start carrying around a little radio to listen to your AM stations. We take stereo FM for granted but I remember in the early days of FM the AM stations just played the same programs on their FM station because they didn’t know what to do with FM. Finally they figured out what to do with FM and some great music began to fill the airwaves and in stereo too!

I remember my dad playing his LP mono records on a simple record player when I was a kid. Then when stereo came along it was a really big deal and we got fancy furniture consoles in our living rooms to entertain us. Of course cassette tapes and 8 track tapes came along so we could play recorded music on a Walkman or in our cars. When CDs came out all of the tapes became obsolete. Now music is streamed from countless devices and it sounds incredibly good but some folks are going back to the vinyl LPs for that “vintage” sound.

I hope you enjoyed my reminiscing about the “good old days” of technology. While they’re fond memories I’m very happy with today’s technology. Do you have any stories to share about the early days of phones, televisions and radio?