I’m writing this post while watching an episode of Modern Marvels (History Channel) about 70s tech. The episode recalls Pong, Speak and Spell, Polaroid cameras, microwaves, LED watches, and other technology nostalgia. It’s one of those shows that any geek over 30 years old can watch and recall a much simpler era of consumer tech.
Back in the 70s (and 80s and even 90s to a much lesser degree), consumer technology was its own Wild West. Computers had numerous operating systems, there were more than 3 consoles on the market, and any innovation was looked upon with wonder. There were no “sure things” and virtually no rules. It was chaos. It was also fun.
Part of the fun was the inherent challenge in making technology work. There was very little software you could just go buy. You had to put a little of your own energy into the process, even if it just meant typing Load “*”,8,1. Now after a week of using Vista, I might make the argument that you have to put a lot of time into making it work properly, but that’s a different type of technology chaos.
I think the old challenges of technology contributed to the fond memories many of us have. Sure I complained about losing a few weeks’ worth of work due to my recent burglary, but it doesn’t compare to the crushing blow of losing the video game I wrote in BASIC on my C64, and saved on a cassette tape! That was the first moment in which I almost threw a computer out the window – and most certainly not the last. Fundamentally, it was so much more of an adventure.
Consumer technology today is so spoon-fed. Sure, there’s some bugginess, and sure, not everything works out of the box – my new Vaio came with the wrong video driver – how pathetic is that? Sure I have fond memories of some late 90s technology, specifically:
- my 14 hour TiVo
- my 16MB Rio MP3 player
- my 1MP Kodak digital camera
- my first-gen Toshiba Tecra laptop
- my first Startac
- Netscape 1.0 (the browser, not whatever it is now)
But for the most part, it seems like the West is tamed. I don’t envision people looking back on technology of the 00’s as fondly. “Wasn’t the RAZR cool?” doesn’t have a big ring to it. “I sure miss my old Comcast DVR” will probably never be uttered out loud.
I could be wrong, but I feel like the energy it took to get your old Kaypro working with your Hayes 300 baud modem to connect to some local BBS where you can see the latest in ASCII art is the kind of challenge that doesn’t quite get equalled by using Yahoo Pipes to connect a real-time map with a list of local Dairy Queens so you can launch BlizzardFindr. Which is, of course, a service I’d totally use, just so we’re all clear on that point.