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Modern technology has changed so many things on us so quickly that just as Pokemon Go was all the rage and now seems to be fading out a bit, technology has simply made some things obsolete. Even things that may be still not be extinct are so rare that many younger people consider them to be a myth. To put this in the proper perspective, I’m about to turn 50 this month and I have an 11 year old daughter.
My wife and I tell her about things from our childhood and she gasps in disbelief. That’s what made me want to write this piece. Naturally, so much of this will involve how computers have changed our lives, so I’m going to start there. I didn’t even touch a computer until I was a high school sophomore back in 1981. Our daughter started using computers in daycare!
That first computer that I used was a Burroughs B1905 mainframe. It was about the size of a small car, but it pales compared to what today’s computers can do. It probably pales compared to of today’s tablets in terms of sheer computing power. Most of the students still did their work on punched cards and read them into a card reader. They had to be in the proper order or else they were useless.
I still remember the day that a girl named Gina refused to let me place her stack of about 300 cards onto the reader because she didn’t trust a lowly sophomore. You can guess what happened next. She dropped the deck. She started crying and I started laughing. Yeah, it was mean, but I was 15.
The programming languages that we used were dinosaurs. My personal favorite was COBOL, which was written very much like English. It was very long, but very easy to understand. I am not exaggerating when I say that a program written in BASIC that would take less than a half-dozen lines of code would be over 50 lines in COBOL.
Now, our daughter has been learning coding for several years now. How times have changed!
My first three personal computers will all made by Commodore, a highly innovative company based not in Silicon Valley, but right here in Pennsylvania. I owned a Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64 and Commodore 128. Each was so named because of how much memory it had to process data. To put that it perspective to today’s computers, many have 8 gigabytes (8 billion) of memory or more. The Commodore 128 had 128K (128 thousand) bytes of memory to use. Hard to believe, but it was pretty advanced for its day.
Commodores did not come with disk drives, they were purchased separately. The disks were huge in comparison to a flash drive. A 5.25” disk was very common when I was in high school and typically held less than a megabyte of data. Installing new programs often meant swapping out multiple disks. Today, when you purchase a program, even at a store, it’s likely that you’ll get a package with a proof-of-purchase code that is activated on a computer to authorize a download via high speed internet connections.
Non-Tech Based School Libraries
How many of you even remember using a card catalog? This was how libraries indexed their books, magazines and such. Nowadays, everything is on a computer. Many library computers can also show the book’s location on-screen to help the person find the book, assuming that they weren’t also finding the “book” online. As a professor, it’s so rare when a student uses an actual book as a source material for a homework assignment. Even print magazines often make their content available online, either on a website or sometimes as a PDF version of the print copy.
I could go back a bit farther and mention microfilm/microfiche, as well. Back when I was in junior high school, I would spend lots of time looking at old newspapers that way, just for fun. Today, school libraries are adapting to new technologies, making those methods obsolete. So, while I can fondly remember scanning rolls of microfilm, I’m thankful for what technology has brought us.
Drive-Ins Movies (with Hanging Speakers)
I still remember the very first movie that I saw at a drive-in movie theater. The year was 1975, I was eight years old. The movie was Jaws. I know, my parents were trying to scar me for life.
It’s hard enough to even find a drive in theater. According to an article I found, there are only 336 drive-ins still operating in the US.
Today, anyone going to see a movie this way simply uses their own car radio to receive a low powered signal that won’t reach very far, but still provides good sound. Back when I saw Jaws, cars had to roll down the driver’s window to hang a squawk box to the window, getting wet if it rained. Ah, memories!
Hearing, “You’ve Got Mail”
Most Millennials have no recollection from when America On-Line was the dominant online provider of Internet access. This was before his-speed internet and WiFi. Users, including myself, heard the screeching of a dial-up modem as it connected, sometimes taking over a minute to fully connect. How many Millennials would suffer so much as to have to wait a full minute before being able to surf the Web.
Then, of course, came the announcement letting a user know if they had email. Of course, with the amount of spam that goes around now, users pretty much have email every time they sign on, even if it’s nothing they want to read.
Most Milliennials who have heard that sound probably heard in by watching the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan romantic comedy that named itself after the AOL announcement.
The number of cell phones in the US now exceeds the population. That’s not to say that everyone owns one, as some people own more than one. What is interesting from this Pew Research report is that more adults own a cell phone than own a laptop or desktop computer.
How many people have even seen a dial phone? Or a pay phone? Maybe the pay phone, but probably not a dial phone. Who reading this knows what a “party line” is? It goes back a few decades, for sure. When I was growing up, my family would go up to a cabin in central Pennsylvania. The house had a party line; which mean that several houses shared the same phone line. You knew if the call was for your house by the way the phone rang – sort of like a ringtone. Except, it wasn’t that easy to distinguish one ring from another, so kids, who are always eager to answer a ringing phone, would answer calls that weren’t meant for anyone at that location.
Even the first generation of portable phones are something that most Millennials have never seen. I don’t remember the make/model that I owned, but I know I needed a shoulder strap to carry it. The batter weighed more than the phone, which was connected to the batter by a cord.
This one may not deserve to be on the list. I say that because vinyl albums are sort of making a comeback. A walk through FYE and even Barnes and Noble shows newly released albums from today’s artists. Die hard fans say that nothing compares to the experience of listening to music from vinyl records. Modernists say that nothing can match the clarity of sound offered by CDs and digital files.
The first time I ever saw a high definition TV was at a Best Buy. The image, as you’d expect was far better than anything I’d ever seen before. The price was also more than I’d ever seen before. Now, it’s virtually impossible to buy a television that’s not high definition.
Nowadays, Blu-Ray is trying to knock off DVDs. A similar war took place in the 1980s between Betmax and VHS tapes and as the video below explains, the winner in a mass produced product is the one that’s “good enough,” less expensive and easier to produce.
Many more things have changed with regards to TVs that Millennials grew up. For one thing, we only had about 10 channels in my house growing up, until cable TV became available in our neighborhood. And before then, every house had a huge antenna on the roof and the TVs themselves also had antenna attached to them.
Then of course, came the fact that TVs in the 70s and 80s often did not have remote controls. To change the channel, you had to get up and turn the knob yourself. So, no channel surfing, unless you had a much younger sibling that you can force to do it for you!
Lastly, I remember when MTV went on the air. I came home from school and told my brother that there was a new channel that played music videos all day long. They only had a few videos, so like today’s top 40 stations, they quickly rotated through them. Of course, Millennials do remember a time when MTV wasn’t playing music, because they abandoned the idea of playing music videos a long time ago. Even their sister channel, VH-1, plays few videos. Of course, I have dozens of channels to choose from that play any genre of music videos that I want, so who needs MTV?
About the Author
Joe Yeager is the founder of Safety Net of PA, LLC and has been a cyber safety advocate for several years. He is an adjunct professor at Philadelphia University, where has been teaching several classes that involve using technology to improve the quality of their schoolwork.
As the founder of Safety Net, Joe provides a variety of presentations on improving the online experience, both in better educational performance and in cyber safety. It was after his own daughter came across inappropriate content online that got him involved in helping others in the area.