Thursday, September 18, 2008

From Lo-Tech To Hi-Tech

I have had one of those philosophical moments thinking about technological development. I thought of my grandfather, who was twenty years old when the brothers Wright managed to fly an aircraft for the very first time on 17 December 1903. Well before he passed away in 1976 he had also seen the first man on the moon. Isn't that a wonderful, fantastic thought? In his lifetime mankind developed the technology to put a man on that mysterious round disc illuminating the night sky. However Leonardo da Vinci, that multi-talented brainbox from half a millennium ago with his many ingenious ideas, did not always get it right. Like this one ...

da Vinci flying man

So I started thinking about technological milestones in my own life, so far. Typing this draws my mind back to when I was a little boy. Then I used a pencil for most writing; on the odd occasion we used metal-nibbed pens in school for handwriting practice. Later the fountain pen, despite the danger of making a mess of your shirt pocket or your pencil case, made it much more user-friendly since you did not have to dip the nib into a bottle of ink every five seconds. My first fountain pen though, was of the kind that you had to fill, sucking the ink up with a pulling movement. When the ink cartridge was introduced some time later you felt that things were really moving on. Then there was the ballpoint pen, the greatest of them all. How that has revolutionised writing by hand! They were initially not really affordable to the average person, but these days most people would not care if they lost their ballpoint pen.

Long before these relatively modern writing tools, the quill pen was the only alternative, the forerunner to the metal-nibbed pen. I still remember how, when I was thirteen, I had found a big wing feather from a buzzard or similar bird of prey, and I made my own modern ballpoint quill pen out of it by inserting the ink tube with ballpoint into the shaft of the feather. Genius, I thought.

Typewriter cr

As a lucky seven-year-old I was sometimes allowed to use my fathers typewriter. Remember them? When the ribbon got stuck, entangled and messy? And the arms with the letters on them jammed completely if you tried to type too quickly! Much better when the electric ones with the spinning ball were introduced. There was no stopping the world's typists then. The employers could demand even higher speeds, as long as you did not forget to put in the carbon sheet so you got a copy, because this was when photo-copying was relatively new and expensive. Do you remember those days?

I was a newly appointed deputy head teacher when my head teacher said I needed a calculator for my work. I would be reimbursed, he assured me, otherwise I might have hesitated. This one had solar cells, and I was so impressed by the whole idea that I asked the shop assistant how long the solar cells would last?! I still use my second calculator, which must be at least twenty to twenty-five years old; and the cells have not given up on me yet!

Thinking of sunlight, makes me think again of my grandfather, how he went about taking photographs. It was a slow process; at least that was what we children thought as we stood there waiting to have the group picture taken. The technology in my digital camera is quite different.

Old camera cr Canon Digital IXUS 400

Then we have communication technology; remember telex machines? The sender had to either type, punching a tape that then (I think) was put into another machine producing typed text, or it was received as it was typed in at the other end. After telex came fax; what a revolution! You could send any document over the phone?! Unheard of! Put the sheet in the facsimile machine, watch it being pulled slowly through and then phone to check that it had been received alright. You could not really trust the fickle fax!

telex fax

These days we just attach a document to an email, but hey, that was almost surpassing the computer! Young folk nowadays have little understanding of how quickly things have moved on with computers. The computer on the first lunar landing craft, The Eagle, had less memory than a modern mobile phone. I remember buying my first PC nearly twenty years ago, how I said that I did not want to become a second class citizen, I had to learn about this new technology. How things have moved on since!

In the beginning the features of a computer were extremely limited and when the internet started up it was a desperate struggle to find anything since search engines were in their infancy as well. Those of you who also know the whole development would probably agree when I say it has been mind-boggling.

I must not forget to mention mobile phones; texting, sending pictures, taking photos ...

We have come a long way from the bricks of the eighties to the iPhones. It is amazing; and you wonder what will come next. Did I forget the iPod?

And here I am blogging about it all in my personal little space in the blogosphere.

C u l8r!


Eric Valentine said...

That was a nice trip down memory lane Swen, I remember all of that. :)

I can remember the railways in UK delivering parcels by Horse & cart round the town & of course the railway steam engines ~ the changes are endless in all walks of our lives today my friend. I like the term you used of "second class citizen" LOL :D

swenglishexpat said...

Thanks Eric, and of course one should think of what is in store for our children and grandchildren. It seems to be accelerating. Hold on to your hat!

CanadianSwiss said...

I often think of how incredibly fast technology has moved in the past century, or so. Fascinating!

swenglishexpat said...

CS - yes, the pace is certainly much different from before "modern days". Nothing happened for centuries (I know it's an exaggeration) and then it just seems to have gone wild!

Veronica said...

Sadly, perhaps, yes, I do remember the typewriter (I learned to type on one of those) I also remember a workmate who could read the telex tape - that impressed me! Aren't humans (a lot of them anyway) smart; such progress since rubbing two sticks together to pass the time made quite a spark, and taking those sharp edges off the square wheel!

Diane Mandy said...

Wonderful post. It's amazing how things have changed in such a short period of time!

swenglishexpat said...

Veronica - Thank you for dropping in. Reading the tape, wow! Very impressive. However the square wheels seem to be back, in the world economy! ;-)

Diane - Thank you. Yes, we should really be holding on to our seats.

Bjebeje said...

Yep. The kids of today will never fully appreciate the humour when Mickey and Donald eat corn on the cob "typewriter style".

Another fascinating angle to these kinds of thoughts is to look at it from the perspective of the kids or teenagers of today; what is their "technology history"? Have they ever known a world without personal computers, mobile phones, internet, email or even facebook?

Just look at the language used by my daughter's friends when writing their blog. They don't write a blog, they speak it. Or, on a similar track, what does their contemporary history look like? Pre- or post the crumbling of the Berlin wall for example.

There are more than one way to walk a mile in someones shoes.