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People Are Analog

People Are Analog

Today, in the U.S., all televisions are officially switching from analog to digital transmission, forever turning the page on the tradition of television signals broadcast, for free, through the air.* In many ways, this is a seamless change–most people will never even notice–but the very IDEA is one that I find intriguing.

How many ways has the digital revolution touched and changed my life? Your life?

  • Telephones: We went from party lines with a real, live operator connecting our calls, to rotary dials, to push button phones. Then we went cordless. Then there were car phones and really heavy, bulky briefcase phones, which were quickly supplanted by cell phones which have gotten smaller and sleeker.

  • Answering Machines: I remember so clearly when I was the only kid I knew whose house had an answering machine, and that was solely because my father’s business was down in our The machine recorded on magnetic tape and it only recorded messages of a certain length. If you were too wordy, too bad; you got cut off. Then there were machines that recorded the messages digitally, so that you could call home and dial in a specific code to pick up your messages. Now, most people have call waiting and voicemail and don’t even need a separate machine anymore (though, we still have ours).

  • Music: Golly, remember when transistor radios were cool? How about vinyl 45 singles? 8-track tape players? The ever-popular boombox? Sony Walkman? And, CDs, of course, which were going to revolutionize music forever. And, well, they did for a while, but then along came MP3s… People used to be limited to listening to (1) live musical performances, (2) personally-selected music on the stereo in the privacy of their own home, or (3) whatever the DJ chose to play over the radio (AM or FM). If you were lucky, on long family vacations, you’d be able to find a decent radio station so that everyone in the car was satisfied with the choices.

  • Calculators: Once, there were piles of stones to use in aid of mathematical achievements, then there was the abacus. Slates with chalk. Pencils with erasers. Automatic pencils that never needed sharpening. And then calculators. I still remember when my father brought our first one home in the early 1970s with firm admonitions to my sister and me to not touch because it was so expensive. By the time I was in high school, they were being given away as freebies by every bank, car wash, or business-type-of-your-choice.

  • Computers: Talk about BIG calculators. At the beginning, that was really all these machines did–massive, complicated mathematical calculations. Then they started doing other things. My father got into computers early, in the 1950s, and worked as a programmer at one of the first banks to use one and still tells those “walked barefoot in the snow to school” kinds of stories about the vast size of the computer he worked on compared to the (relatively) tiny amounts of data it recorded. My first computer didn’t have a hard drive or a color monitor, and it used those old 5.25″ floppy disks, but I was still the first of my friends to have my own computer. Next came hard drives, and color, and laser printing, and smaller, faster machines with computing power that still makes my Dad giddy from time to time.

  • The Internet: While having your very own computer for word processing and video games was cool, computers really got fascinating when the internet came along. Email. Chat rooms. Message boards. Wikipedia. Websites on every topic under the sun. Blogs by the thousands. Talk about an amazing resource–you can research, ask questions, confer with friends, make travel plans to meet them, and do just about anything all at the touch of a keyboard.

  • Television: When my parents were children, houses had radios for entertainment. Then, there was one television–big as a piece of furniture, but with a tiny screen (possibly round). With, let’s not forget, rabbit ear antennas on the top, and a dial to turn for channel selection, plus a knob for volume. Then along came color. Next, it was cable television so you didn’t need the antennas anymore, then satellite. Now, we not only have cable and satellite for clear, sharp pictures, but we also have high-definition signals for even clearer, sharper pictures. Not to mention the internet, where we can watch shows at our convenience, rather than according to when the networks want us to watch.

  • Television Recording: Do you remember the VCR revolution? Not only did you suddenly have a movie theater in your living room, but you could record a television program so that you wouldn’t miss it if you were out, or watching something else? Sure, philistines complained that the point of being away from the television was to miss watching things, but I remember this as being akin to magic. We could watch one thing and record something else. We could go on vacation and still not miss the season finales of our favorite shows. (Well, six of them, since the video tapes could only hold up to 6 hours of recording … and at $20 each, you didn’t have too many of them.) This lasted for years, and then there were cable boxes which limited the channel you could record to the one you were watching (bummer). Then there was Tivo and the other digital recording devices so that you could record and save shows without needing the tapes, and … with a DVD-recorder, you could burn them to DVD, too.

And now?

What’s the point of this trip down memory lane?

The absolutely amazing thing is that you can pretty much do all of these things at the same time, on the same piece of equipment.

You can watch television on your computer. You can check your email from your telephone. You can make video calls over your computer. You can calculate your tip at a restaurant on your watch. If you even wear a watch, because many people don’t because they can check the time an assortment of electronic devices within finger’s reach. All of these electronic gadgets are one bare step away from being interchangeable, allowing for a certain level of portability–and weight.

Just in my lifetime, I am astounded at how much has changed–and the digital electronics revolution has been a huge part of that. There was no such thing as cable television, personal computers, answering machines, calculators, or VCRs when I was born. So MANY things that I can’t imagine my life without simply didn’t exist. And the fact that they are all (except, apparently, electronic book readers) working together, blurring the boundaries just makes me feel excited to live in such a wonderful time.

But don’t forget–People Are Not Digital

With all this cool, new-technology hoopla, it’s sometimes easy to forget how far we’ve come, so quickly. Or to get so wound up with the freedom to be able to listen to whatever we want, whenever we want; to watch whatever we want; to call anyone from anywhere that we forget that the sense of freedom.

    It’s easy to forget that it didn’t always work this way.

    It’s easy to forget that we didn’t use to have so many choices.

    It’s easy to forget that, while we arrange our digital lives to fit our personal needs, our NON-digital lives are still intertwined.

We need to remember that, while so many things transition to cool, fast, customizable digital technology, that we as people are, in fact, analog, and we need to work together, like the old vacuum tubes in the first computers–where, if they didn’t work together, they didn’t work at all.

So, remember this as you walk around your day, listening to music of your choice, talking to friends and business associates from the grocery store via the gadget in your pocket, checking your email while you wait on line, watching last night’s episode of Burn Notice while you ride the train.

All these choices and options at your fingertips–wondrous and convenient as they are–doesn’t make you the center of the universe, just the center of your own.

*Yes, I know that some stations are now broadcasting digital HDTV signals that you can capture with an antenna, but it’s still digital, and the people watching that way are very much in the minority, so … ignore that.

5 thoughts on “People Are Analog

  1. Brad Shorr

    Hi Deb, Enjoyed your post – I’m guessing we’re around the same age, because every piece of analog memorabilia you mentioned made me smile. When I was growing up in the ’60’s, my best friend’s dad worked for IBM. He took us to Chicago to see a computer and it was in a room the size of a banquet hall.

    Today I have 33 recordings I put on tape, then transfered to a CD, and now listen to on my iPod. I do like the crackling of the needle in the grooves – such a nice, cozy sound.

    PS – Last night’s Burn Notice was pretty awesome, don’t you think?
    .-= Brad Shorr´s last blog ..Different Audience Temperaments Require Different Presentation Styles =-.

  2. Lawrence Miller

    Like Brad, I enjoyed your post. We used to be able to enjoy more of them but for some reason–a good one from your perspective, I am sure–you don’t post here that often anymore. I miss your posts, especially the smarty-pants grammar posts you used to do. They were so neat.

    Come to think of it, I bet you could write in smarty-pants style on any subject you chose and it would make for good reading, because there would be some logic behind what you wrote.

    Well, this post was equally neat, Deb. There is a however, however.

    I have found that I no longer have any use whatsoever for television. In fact, I got rid of my last television in 1985 and have never looked back.

    The news? I can get all I need of it online and its content is of a higher quality, unlike the Madison Avenue/Hollywood style news on TV where they try overly hard to get increased advertising income by catering to the slowest and the dumbest among us.

    TV shows? I’ll take your word for it that you guys have found a single solitary TV show that is of a better than a run-of-the-mill poorly written book.

    Of course, TV is relaxing. After all, when we are really into it, we are mentally almost asleep.

    And now radio? That is a different matter altogether. I miss it very much, especially the story-telling shows. Much as with a book, the mind has to build all the sets and the characters involved in a radio show. That need to picture something on radio in your imagination is mind expanding, much as is a good piece of literature or a classical music piece.

    But, all in all, we have come a long way; it’s just that some of “that way” is not an improvement over what was before.

    Something that shows us that we have not developed our mental acuity as much as we would like to think would be reading some of the writings of just a few long dead writers, such as John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, all of whom lived in Byzantine times, prior to the awaking of the West. Then, not too distant from our times, there are the writings of Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.

    We don’t have to like any of these people or subscribe to their chosen path or anything else about them to see that we are not that far ahead of them despite all the advantages we have at our disposal today.

    Thank you so much, Deb, for this very good post. It is proof positive that you haven’t lost any of your mental acuity.
    .-= Lawrence Miller´s last blog ..Pres. Obama wants Elective Surgery on Health Care =-.

  3. Tumblemoose

    Hey, thanks for helping my take the trip.

    Great reminders about how things change, and how quickly. I always get a kick out of seeing an older movie or TV show and seeing someone using a brick mobile phone and such. I also remember back in ’92 researching my first computer purchase and going through page after page in Computer Shopper with ads like, Awesome 486 power! Lightning fast 14.4k modem! Blazing 286k RAM! hehe.

    Coolio post.

    .-= Tumblemoose´s last blog ..Children’s Book Publishers – How to Wow Them With a Perfect Query Letter =-.

  4. J

    What’s interesting to me in most of these revolutions is how we sacrifice quality for convenience, and we just accept it. Not always, of course, but often. The convenience of an mp3 vs. a record player is huge. But the quality of the sound, the depth and richness and the highs and lows, all gone. The convenience of digital answering machines is great, but the quality sucks. The one we had sucked so badly, we could rarely figure out who called, talk about what the heck they might have wanted with us. Now we have the service provided by our phone company, which is stupidly expensive when you annualize it, and there’s no light to tell me I have a message, so sometimes I don’t think to check for a day or three. I miss my old cassette type Brother, and wish I could find one again. Digital cable? Count how many times the picture pixilates on you while you’re watching. It seems to me that it happens at least once in almost any show on digital tv, and now it’s all digital. This may be because we have an older TV (5 years old perhaps?), or it may be because that’s the way it is now, I’m not sure.

    I find all of this frustrating, and I wish companies would work harder on the quality of their products (though making an mp3 sound as good as a record is probably impossible, and if you even got close it would be a huge memory hog, which is part of the issue).

    Do you know anyone that would argue that a cell phone has the same quality as a land line? I hate my stupid cell phone, and it’s probably not the phone, it’s probably the AT&T I am forced to put up with because my husband has an iPhone, and can’t use it with another carrier. But even when I was on TMobile, it wasn’t as good as the land line. But the land line doesn’t go in my car or to the store or wherever else I might want to be. So convenience wins over quality, yet again.

    You know what? I feel old. Like one of those old folks who says, “Things these days just aren’t made the way they used to be!”, and it’s sad, because it’s true. Some of that is inferior workmanship and plastic parts, and some of it is just the age we’re living in, and the technology that is available.
    .-= J´s last blog ..Friday Dog Blogging =-.