Sunday, December 6, 2015

We live in amazing times!

I remember it like it was yesterday! It was the early 60s, and like many red blooded American boys, I was on the couch wrapped up in one of the many science fiction books that I read back in those days. It was a year or two since President Kennedy vowed that we would land an American on the moon and safely return him to earth. Maybe it was the fact that Cape Canaveral was less than 160 miles from my front door, but I was certainly intrigued by everything space. My Dad, a very no nonsense, practical man, quipped as he sat down to read the paper that there would never be a space ship or a ray gun. For once in my life, I was ready so I shot back; “So what do you call an Apollo Capsule or a Laser?” He never bothered me about reading science fiction again.

I know that the space capsules and the early lasers of the time could hardly match the parameters of performance described in my dime novels, but they were a start. Looking back across the decades to that sunny Sunday afternoon it is amazing how the technology at our fingertips has changed and how much our culture has been changed by that technology.

Broadcast Television was still in its first decade: It was still black and white, took a minute or two to warm up and presented us with a blurry look at the world. Within a few years, we would have color television and the ability to clearly see things and events that were far away. We actually watched mankind explore the new frontier with live coverage of the moon landings in the summer of ’69. For the first time in history, the American public could see film shot almost anywhere in the world the same day on the evening news. In the 70s, the TV Networks would abandon earth bound microwave systems for geosynchronous satellites and we could see things happen in real time from anywhere. I might add, that the concept of a geosynchronous satellite was first introduced in 1945 by Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer who gave us “2001, A Space Odyssey.” Hey Dad! Did you hear that?

There were a few concept commercials produced by the telephone company that told us that one day we would have the ability to see who we were talking to over the phone via a private two way TV channel. In the comics, Dick Tracy could call his faithful sidekick Sam via a two way wrist radio. We all thought it would be so cool to have one of those. And it came to pass too! We can use today’s smart phone to talk to each other anywhere on the world. Oh yes, using Skype or some other video app, we can see each other while doing that too in high definition living color. On Saturday Morning’s we could watch Tom Corbett, Dr Joan Dale and Astro battle bug eyed monsters as they piloted the rocket cruiser Polaris on television. Then, in 1977, the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." appeared on the screens of theaters across the world and made Tom and his friends look like stick drawings.

In the summer, growing up in the south was no picnic. It was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, and humid enough to poach it right there where it lay. I will never forget the first residential air conditioner in our neighborhood in the home that very quickly became the focal point of all the youthful activity for blocks around. My first college dorm room was not air conditioned either and the first and last months of the school year were pretty uncomfortable. By the time my roommate and I moved off campus, you can believe that we had a window unit. Not only that, but he had air conditioning in his car, a Pontiac Convertible. These days, we walk in the summer heat only between our air conditioned homes and our air conditioned cars then our air conditioned offices. Oh, if we don’t want to risk getting overheated by a power failure, we can have our own individual self starting natural gas generators. Heck, even the backyard bomb shelters of the ‘60s lacked those.

I bet you were thinking that I haven’t mentioned computers yet. Well, here it comes. Computers used to reside solely in large climate controlled rooms operated by acolytes who could understand the language of the electronic gods; binary. Ken Olsen, the co-founder of Digital Equipment Corporation once declared that there was no need for a computer in the home. How visions change. Today, we wear computers on our wrists or carry them around as smart phones that have hundreds of times more computing power than the one aboard Apollo 11. That’s not all; there is a camera, microphone and speakers on board too. Almost nothing in modern life goes on without being recorded. Here is a stat that will flabbergast you; over 300 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube every minute! That figure is growing exponentially.

Unfortunately, these advances have not improved the soul of our culture. The arguments that used to occur between rocking chairs on the front porch after Thanksgiving dinner with your crazy uncle are now verbal firefights blazing brightly on Facebook or some internet blog. There are even some “fact check” web sites that are themselves guilty of “spinning” events. Perception is indeed reality these days. These great technological gifts bring along increased responsibility. I can only hope that we can grow to accept and internalize that responsibility. Oh MY!

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