Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I tuned the radio 10@10, my favorite radio program, today. A little game I play with myself is to miss the announcement of from which year Dave Morey will be playing the ten songs and then try to figure out what year "the big wheel landed on." This morning I knew immediately, though I tuned in at the very beginning of the second song, Jump, by Van Halen. Which everyone in my peer group knows was on 1984, which came out that year (no duh).

Part of this show includes snippets of news, ads from that year, speeches, and sometimes TV theme songs. One of the snippets went from an ad for the RCA videodisc player (for only $500! and with over 100 discs to play on it!) to several newsbites about how RCA was losing money on the disc player and then would be discontinuing production. The videodisc player was way out of my family's reach (or, honestly, interest), but it sent me on a trip down the lane of obsolete technology.

My first clock was a white and black plastic digital clock. The numbers flipped over every minute, like the pages of a calendar. I turned a knob to set it, while the numbers flipped. Because it was actually a clock radio, I could set it to play music for an hour before turning itself off, and to play music when the alarm went off ("the music came on when the alarm went off"?). Two or three years later I was given a clock radio with backlit green digital numbers that also had a cassette tape player, and I could set it so it would play the tape when the alarm went off.

One of my friends at camp had a cassette of 99 Luftballons, which we played constantly during free periods, along with Def Leppard, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson. Most radio stations only played the English version, so we listened to the German one a lot. The coolest thing about the tape was that if you listened to one version and flipped the tape over, it would already be cued to the other language version. You didn't have to rewind or fast forward or anything!

Sony came out with the Walkman ("Walkman tape player" sounds redundant to me, even at this remove) and everyone wanted one, even I. When I got one, I didn't use it too often, though. As I usually had my eyes on a book while I was walking around, I quickly realized I needed to hear the environment around me. I almost walked into the parent of one of the kids in the carpool because I wasn't watching where I was going and I didn't hear her approach. I only used my Walkman at home after that.

We had an Atari and a cassette drive for two really complicated games that none of us every figured out. One of them involved flying a spaceship through obstacles, but we could never get through a wall about ten minutes into the game. We played the first ten minutes often, though. The other was a text-based game based on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and we could only get about two minutes into the game: I remember typing in questions and getting responses like "You cannot see anything," "You cannot hear anything," "You cannot feel anything," "You cannot smell anything," and "You cannot taste anything."

Hewlett Packard donated twenty computers to my high school and "computer class" was instituted. I don't remember if it was an elective or because of our short school day and my specific schedule of classes, but I never took that class in the three or four semesters the computers and I were both in attendance. I must have learned how to use a computer at college; we all had floppy disks that were actually floppy, and to satisfy the math requirement I took the BASIC Programming course. I did my homework in the computer lab on the VAX, something I imagined to be a huge, grumbling machine with cords and pipes and coils of wire draped all over a basement room of Howarth Hall.

[Actually, I only did about half my homework. One of the computer lab techs with whom I was friendly helped me a lot. When I mentioned to Zirpu that I'd fluttered my eyelashes at this fellow and he'd done my homework for me, he chuckled and said he'd been a computer lab tech at his university, doing the homework of the girls who fluttered their eyelashes at him, too.]

I think in not very many years iPhone- or Blackberry-type machines that will be as ubiquitous as cell phones are now, and only power users will have computer towers and big screen monitors. Then, all the electronics I currently have on my office desk will seem like so much clutter.

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