Last week, Ben Bajarin shared the top 5 technologies that changed his life. Yesterday, Steve Wildstrom talkied about how computers had changed his life. Today, I thought I’d share a few of my old technology war stories.
When I was in college, if you missed a TV program, you missed it forever. As a result, we used to schedule our week around the programs that we wanted to watch. On Tuesday nights, everything stopped so we could watch Happy Days. My friend, Jim, never got to watch an entire episode of Charlie’s Angels because his girlfriend would just happen to call him during the show. Odd coincidence, no? On Sundays in the Fall, we would debate whether to watch football or play football. It was either or because we couldn’t do both.
Then in the summer of 1975, my brother bought what we would later call a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder). It cost him over a thousand dollars and it could only tape one show and only for a total of one hour. I was dazzled. Yet when I described the device to my college dorm mates, they were singularly unimpressed. They just couldn’t see what it was good for. Boy were they wrong.
The VCR changed my life because it freed me from the tyranny of the TV schedule. VCRs have morphed into DVRs and now I watch television on my schedule, not the network’s schedule. I hardly ever watch commercials. I never miss my favorite programs or sporting events. And I schedule my life around my needs and the needs of my family – my television programs never interfere because they are always patiently waiting in a cue for my viewing pleasure.
I was intrigued with computers from the very start. My brother owned an Apple II and I experiemented with all sorts of computers before I finally bought one. In 1984, Apple introduced the Mac. I wanted one so badly…but I couldn’t afford it. I waited until Apple introduced the “Fat Mac” – a whole 512-k of memory – in 1985 and then bought the 1984 model which only had 128 kilobytes of memory – total. There were no hard drives. The system, program and data all had to fit on a single 128-k disk. How very far we’ve come.
I won’t go into a discussion of the wonders of the mouse, the graphical user interface and the menus. Let me just say that before the Mac, I worked at understanding computers. The Mac was the first computer that tried to understand how I worked. And that has made all the difference.
When I was a kid, I remember writing my papers by hand. After I was done, I would often have to re-write the whole thing to make it legible. When I was in 8th grade, I learned to touch type. It was like a small miracle. I could type so much faster than I could write and it was legible too! But I still remember re-wrting my papers long into the night. And I well remember using white-out to correct my many, many typing errors.
When I encountered word processing, it was love at first sight. On-screen editing, spell and grammar checking, cut and paste. We take these all for granted now, but they were literally life changing technological breakthroughs to me. Word processing truly works the way I work. I throw my ideas onto the screen and then I go back over them again and again, editing and re-writing as I go. And it is not at all unusual for me to cut and paste large blocks of text as I arrange and re-arrange my thoughts
You may take the word processor for granted but I never will. I well know that I could never go back to writing my drafts by hand or even writing them on a typewriter. The word processor does not just help me to write my thoughts. It helps me to shape and create those thoughts too.
I am geographically challenged…which is a nice way of saying that I have no sense of direction. GPS has literally changed my life and what I would not have given to have had it available earlier in my life.
Heck, I thought it was a miracle when Mapquest came out. I would sit at my desk and print out maps to any location that I wished to visit. It showed me the way even if I’d never been there before. But if I went off route, the jig was up. I’d never find my way back on course.
I bought in-car GPS units just as soon as I could afford them. Their greatest asset was the ability to re-route. Make a wrong turn? No problem. The GPS would sort it all out and tell me how to get back on course.
Today, GPS is almost all the way there. Last night I told my phone to “Drive me to such and such” and without missing a beat, it found the desired location and gave me turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. GPS isn’t quite there yet. But it is oh so very close. And for someone like me, that’s like a tiny miracle happening every single day.
The iPhone changed everything for me because it is not really a phone at all. It is a small computer that you can put in your pocket. It ties everything else I’ve talked about together. I can watch Youtube or Netflix or download a movie or TV show to be watched at my pleasure and at my leisure. I can type out short text messages or long emails. I can use it for GPS. And I can do everything I did on my Mac and so very much more.
My journey in computing started with the Mac. But today I have the power of yesterday’s mainframe and all the knowledge of the internet in my pocket at all times.
When I was a kid, we thought that we’d have laser beams that would cut down trees and computers that would be as big as buildings. It seems to me that we expected technology to get bigger but instead it has gotten smaller. Lasers are powerful but not because they do big things but because they do small things like laser surgery. Computers are powerful but not because they are bigger but because they are smaller and more personal.
Technology has freed my time, helped me to get where I want to go, helped me to create, shape and express my thoughts and placed the power of computing and the internet in my hand. What has technology done for you? Please share your thoughts and experiences on how technology has touched your life in the comments, below.