Tech #15: Big Inventions

One of the greatest inventions since the printing press has to be the portable audio player.  For years, the only way to listen to recorded music was either your home record player or the infamous ghetto blaster. Now you can shut out the world and retreat to your little capsule of sound. Sweet, sweet escape.

Remember having to change the channel by hand? Those UHF channels were a bitch, and then you had fine tune it every time.  Ugh.

Our first remote was attached to the VCR by a long wire, and we thought we'd entered the space age.  I don't recall when I got my first cordless remote; probably the mid eighties.  Back then, you only had a handful of channels, so not having a remote wasn't as miserable as you'd think.  Today, with hundreds of channels (all crap), a remote is a requirement.

One of the most taken-for-granted electronic device has to be the calculator.  You may have forgotten that for the longest time calculators were not affordable for your average family.  Engineering majors would have lay down a hefty loan to get a calculator for college - they were big, bulky and ridiculously expensive.

Can you imagine not having one today? Granted, most of your personal finances are done automatically via your bank; however, I still can't imagine having to whip out a pencil and paper every time I needed to calculate something.

As much as I love video games, there's that old geezer in me that pines for a day when we didn't have them.   Perhaps it's just sentimental nonsense, but I feel like something was lost when video games entered our homes.  It was one more step away from "real life" interactions, and one step forward towards this "bubble" we are all creating for ourselves.  At least at the arcade you were communing with real human beings.

The cell phone is both a blessing and a bane of my existence. On the downside, it has become tethered to every human being like some bionic parasite.  Instead of just being a handy device, it is often a person's noose, yoke, life support, and addiction all in one. For some people, taking away their iPhone is tantamount to stealing their soul.  I, myself, have to have it for work - I don't like it, but without it I'm f****d.

On the other hand, many of you will remember this scenario...

Not having to wait in line and pay for a phone call is very liberating.  I always felt rushed on the pay phone and would inevitably get disconnected mid-sentence.  You can't deny the convenience of the smartphone - as much as I hate to admit it, I think this is an invention I'd have a hard time living without.

I'm still on the fence about the digital clock.  I can tell the time every bit as fast using your standard analog clock; and do we really need to know the time to the nanosecond?  Notice that this 1976 advertisement wants to charge you a hundred dollars for this simple digital timepiece..... that's nearly $400 in today's dollars!

And, finally, here's a great invention that I'm surprised never took off.  Go figure.


  1. My dad was a draftsman (now called "drafter") back in the '70s and he paid $200 for a calculator for work. He still uses it I think. By the time I was in high school in the early '80s, you could buy a calculator in the check out line at K-Mart for less than $10 that did more than my dad's.

    Many people have a mechanical (or rather electronic) babysitter, it's called different names, TV, Computer, Smartphone, game system, etc.

    I still don't have a cell phone. We have a Tracphone for trips and stuff that my wife carries sometimes, but that's it.

  2. Love the pay phone photo!

  3. Wonder how many men claimed they were trying to see the time when caught staring at a woman's breasts while she wore one of those watches.

  4. AnonymousJune 07, 2012

    My wife has an eBay storefront, of recent we offed a pair of the yellow cased Sports Walkman AM/FM radio-tape players and a 'traditional' Walkman AM/FM radio-tape player, all the items were snapped up within 24 hours just showing there is an active interest in retro gadgets !

  5. As a radio producer and former media student, digital clocks are a wonderful invention. Yes, I do need to tell time down to the nano second. Sadly, the place I work at believes non-media people can pay to be on-air. These people believe they shouldn't follow rules on time constraints like hitting the network at the top of the hour for news or ending the show after an hour. They keep on talking after you have given them cues to shut up.

    I'll summarize my thoughts, Digital clocks: good invention. Talk radio host: Bad invention.

  6. Portable music kept me sane in high school.

  7. Paul DucaJune 10, 2012

    The man who invented the first wireless remote control in the 1950's, the Zenith Space Command, died only recently.

    And car phones, using a radio signal to connect to an mobile operator, who put the person on a land line through, go back to the early 1950's. What self-respecting TV private eye of the 1970's didn't have one?
    (Jim Rockford, natch...HE had to wait in that line for a pay phone)

  8. Yet even today so many radio stations limit their "podcasts" to live listening only. You can't download them and take them with you. I don't have time to listen to three hours sitting in front of my computer.

    Only a handful of stations seem to understand that it is the content not the time slot that we listen to.

  9. One Christmas my parents splurged for the latest video game system...Odyssey . This thing actually required that you put thin plastic see-thru screens right onto your TV screen, those were the "graphics". Dad worked all day to get it working correctly but by that time we had moved on.

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  11. Okay but what is Jim Carrey doing in those shorty shorts!?