Monday, July 8, 2013

Electronic Advances During My Lifetime

My husband and I were listening to a radio station the other day and they asked, “What were the top three personal electronic created in your life time”. After giving it some thought I would have to say the personal computers, cell phones and digital cameras.

Personal computers have been a part of my life since the early 80’s. I bought my first home desk top computer back in 1982. It was a “Tandy” which was Radio Shacks brand name. The thing weighed a ton and costs a few thousand dollars. The only printers were dot-matrix.  They basically had no memory and everything had to be saved to a 5 ½ inch floppy disk. There was no ability to multitask. You put in a game disc and played that game. When you were done playing that game you put in your word processing disc, at the time “WordStar” was the most commonly used program. There were a few other very basic simple programs you could use like a budget calculator. But most all programs costs a lot of money so you only bought what you had to have.

I got my first modem around 1986. It was an external modem that hooked up to your computer then to your phone jack. It was a 300 baud dial up modem and the Internet consisted of a few bulletin boards you could call into and talk “chat” with other computer geeks. It took so long to boot the computer up that unless you had a specific task; it sat there like a big eye sore in the room. Getting on the Internet was always a gamble. Often the lines were busy and you could not log in. When you were able to log in it was a long drawn out process and long distances charges were applied to your phone bill.

I remember my first cell phone, I bought it around 1990. The thing is bigger than most handbags and weighed about 5 pounds. It had a case with a battery in it that was the size of a small car battery and two cords came out of it. One cord plugged into the car lighter and the other one was attached to a full size hand held phone with a dial pad. Reception was spotty at best. You could use it without plugging  it into the lighter, but the battery life was about 30 minutes. The only mobile electronic gadget that I owned that was bigger than my cell phone was my camcorder. The case was about the size of a carry-on luggage bag and weighed a ton. It also had a battery pack in the case (the battery was good for about 3 hours, if it was fully charged). You would prop this huge camera on your shoulder (like the ones they use to film movies) and a cord connected the camera to the battery. Good luck if you could hold that thing on your shoulder for 3 hours. It only took the full size VCR tapes, which you could run home and place in your VCR so that you could watch your amateur shaky movie on TV.

Fast forward 25 years, when I want to use the computer, I grab my laptop, open it and I am instantly online. I can have several programs at once and jump between them at will. It has more memory than I could ever fill, even if I downloaded every picture and song ever I wanted to keep.  And the Internet has the answer to just about any question you have.  You can find the most obscure things on it and even use it to “Skype” with people around the world. My cell phone fits in the palm if my hand and can be used for days without being recharged. And to call it a phone, by definition, does not even begin to describe all the ways it can be used. I love the games, calendar and alarm features. People use it as a GPS, to log onto the Internet and to send text messages. I also have a camcorder that takes still pictures or digital videos. It fits in the palm of my hand as well and runs off of 3 AA batteries. However, since my phone also acts as a voice recorder, camera and video camera, I very seldom have a real need for it. 

I remember back to the 80's and 90's when these three items were introduced to the public for personal use. I thought they were so advanced and made life much easier. I never dreamed they would advance so fast and become so much more useful, accessible, inexpensive, and part of just about everyone's daily life. I included pictures of what those first items looked like back in the day. Depending on your age, I am sure your answer to that question may be different than mine. But those are the three most helpful electronic advances during my lifetime. How would you answer that question?

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