Scribblings of a Corner Boy -
The young man behind the counter at the Zephyrhills Wal-Mart here in Florida smirked when I asked him about an old VHS tape I was looking for. I was hoping to pick up a few old classic western movies for a friend.
"VHS tapes are archival pieces now, sir," he replied. "Even the DVD will soon be history," he added.
We are witnessing the death of many of our old favourites. Every month it seems something new in the communications world comes on the scene. As we start a new decade, let's think about the changes new technologies have brought and are still bringing our way.
Recently I was looking at the stash of old 33 1/3 rpm records I have. They take me back well over 50 years. Back then we bought all our records at music stores downtown. I shopped for years at O'Brien's on Water Street in St. John's. When I worked at CJON radio (in the '50s), employees could order record albums through the station librarian. The selection was enormous.
We had an old floor-model RCA record player at home. It was a beauty and could play 78s, 33 1/3s and 45s. It had a mechanized overhang arm and two interchangeable needles on the end of a small chrome and brass cylinder. The needles touched the surface, and presto! you heard the music.
The old 78s take us back to our parents' time, the early 1900s, when most records were made of a brittle material that was easily broken. If a record were dropped even just on a table it would break into smithereens. The 78s came in 10-inch and 12-inch sizes. Imagine the relief when technology advanced us to vinyl. Since then there has been a virtual revolution of new gadgets.
Today we can watch for the introduction of television on phones (certain phones double as TV receivers). There are game-controlled gloves - futuristic-looking black and silver accessories that replace the keyboard, allowing the user to control games by touching his or her fingers together. There's a 3-D filter that allows regular TV sets to provide 3-D viewing. Not to be outdone, Fujifilm introduced a 3-D digital camera with two lenses set apart like human eyes that allows people to shoot their own 3-D movies and photos.
On Wednesday, Apple unveiled the IPad - a 10-inch tablet computer that will play video, music and games, and can browse the Internet and download books and newspapers.
Those olden days
Looking through my mind's rearview mirror and remembering those olden days (some may contend they were the good ol' days) I sometimes reminisce about the first two-party telephone hookup. It was in the mid-'40s when to make a call we had to go through a phone company operator. Lily Tomlin on Laugh-In in the 1970s was famous for her role as the quintessential nosy switchboard operator. If you are around my age (69) you might remember her "one ringy dingy" line and her listening in on confidential conversations.
Phonographs became record players. Record players became cassette players. Cassette players were replaced with CD players. Now, CDs are disappearing as more people download music directly to their computers.
The 2010 technological revolution has electronic manufacturers outdoing one other almost daily; what's best and fastest today will be ancient technology tomorrow. Now it's a global game of King of the Hill. Electronics manufacturers are at war with one another trying to keep up with latest fads; if we are smart we can reap the benefits (discounts).
These days there's the amazing Internet, cellphones (proving their worth in the search for victims of the earthquake in Haiti) and IPods.
I was shopping at a Florida supermarket recently. A woman was chatting loudly next to me. I thought she was asking me a question and she replied, "Oh no, sir, I'm talking to someone on my cell." She was roaming the aisles and I noticed there wasn't a cellphone in her hand - she was wearing a headset.
Powerful new social media - including Facebook, Youtube, Myspace, Craigslist the incredibly popular Twitter - connect us online, and expose us to new dangers in the form of Internet predators.
Talking to a machine
Of all the advanced technologies there are two that make me angry. One is those darn automated answering systems. It is hardly possible to talk to anyone but a machine. They bombard you with a vast array of options: "If you know the party you wish to speak to, say 'yes.' If you don't then press 5." Then there's that godawful "beep beep" - "I'm sorry but you've reached the wrong department. Would you like to try again? If so press 1 and we will give you the main menu again."
My second peeve is when the automated phone system keeps you on hold for a lengthy amount of time (don't you just love that?). A recorded female silky voice finally cuts into the annoying loud music in your ear and tells you, "Please continue to hold. Our system is very busy and your call will be answered in sequence when an operator is available."
Time to get up to speed
Soon we will be living like astronauts and everything important in our lives will be automated.
Life was so much simpler way back when we were young. But I'm not young anymore. and it is time, I guess, for me to get up to speed and keep in touch with new technologies.
In the meantime I'm remembering the old favourites, and Lily Tomlin's classic line; "Is this the party to whom I am speaking?" I still feel they were the finest times!
(Bill Westcott writes from Florida using his high-tech computer.)