Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Futurism part 2: technology past

I've written before about the technology my children will grow up with, and how there are many things they won't experience. Good or bad, there are aspects of life that were commonplace while I was young that they will rarely, or never run into. In this post, I thought I'd explore a few of those in a bit more detail. I won't discuss things like flat-screen TVs, smartphone apps, or things like that. I'm not talking about fancy new services or gadgets here, but rather aspects of using technology on a daily basis. These things were commonplace for years, maybe decades and yet they're now gone. Let's look at a few...
TV Static
Anyone who grew up without cable TV remembers static. You'd flip the channel and see nothing but fuzz, sometimes accompanied by an obnoxious static noise. Older TVs didn't have any way of channel scanning to remember which channels were good and which were static. So you'd need to memorize your local channels and know that channel 5, for example, was always static, while 4 and 6 were actual channels.

Since the switch to digital ATSC broadcasts in 2009, the notion of static is gone. All TVs now include channel scanning, but even if you were to manually switch to an empty channel, you would be greeted with an empty black or blue screen. No static, no noise, just...nothing. Digital channels have completely replaced something that was common for decades, and young children today will never experience TV static.

Corded Phones
Aside from desk phones in offices, when was the last time you saw a phone with a cord? An increasing number of homes don't have landlines at all, so for most kids, the only phones they grow up seeing are wireless, mobile phones. Corded phones will still hold a place for a while, especially in environments like office and retail where phones need to be permanently fixed, but for daily life, phones with cords are a thing of the past.

Non-Instant Pictures
My first camera growing up was a small, orange 110 film camera. Film and development were cheaper than 35mm film, making these cameras perfect for kids. I remember being told things like,  take pictures carefully, don't waste film, you pay for it even if it's a bad picture, etc. Film cartridges only held about 24 pictures, which was considered plenty for a day of shooting. If you wanted more, you had to buy cartridges in advance and carry them with you.

Today, film cameras are essentially gone. All stand-alone cameras that my children have seen are digital, and now most smartphones take better pictures than point-and-shoot cameras did a few years ago. My kids have never experienced waiting for a picture. And when they start taking pictures of their own, they'll never have to deal with carefully spacing pictures to avoid paying for extras....never have to order "double prints," never have to wait to see if their pictures "turned out."

Paper maps
All growing up, I can remember my parents keeping a large paper atlas in the car. Even after I started driving, I remember buying maps for unfamiliar cities I was driving to. That started to change with the introduction of GPS units. The first GPS I had only had room for a few states worth of maps, so you had to connect it to a computer to pre-load the areas you were traveling to. Even so, you were still at the mercy of that map being months, probably years old.

That all changed when smartphones began including GPS chips, then maps, then turn-by-turn directions. Today, with mobile networks being faster than ever, smartphones can offer a mapping experience only dreamed of a few decades ago. We can view not only up-to-date maps, but also satellite maps, buildings, live traffic, voice recognition, etc. In all likelihood, being lost in a strange city is something today's kids won't understand.

Non-Always-On Internet
A connection to the Internet is so common, so ubiquitous, that I'm not even sure my kids will understand the notion of it being on or off. When they play games on the tablet, or watch videos on my phone, things just work. Some games require a connection, some don't...some videos are local, some are on YouTube. Granted, my children are still a little too young to grasp that concept, but will it even be something they care about?

Of course there will always be places where a connection isn't available, and that will likely be the case for years to come. But for average, daily life, a connection is always available, either via home Wifi, or mobile networks. It's just always there and always on. The notion of "connecting" to the Internet will likely be pretty foreign to my kids.

Conclusion
This list is far from exhaustive. I only looked at a few points that were notable to me. Technology changes very rapidly, and yet some things take years to fully disappear from daily life. I wonder what aspects of daily life today will be gone by the time I have grandchildren?