The phones: The idea of a phonedates back at least to 1947, but the first call was made from the sidewalkoutside the Manhattan Hilton in 1973 by Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcherwho rang up his rival at AT&T Bell Labs to test the new phone.
Thirtyyears later, more than half of all Americans own one and cellular networks arebeginning to serve Internet access at broadband speeds through thin air. Cellphones have brought a whole new meaning to the term multitasking. Twenty yearsago, it was not possible to talk to the office while you were at the grocerystore picking up some necessary items.
You could never have had a three-waybusiness conference while you were fixing dinner or been able to deal with abusiness client from home while caring for a sick child. Cell phones haveenabled us to do various tasks all at the same time.Spaceflight: Americans from 50 years ago would be disappointedto learn we never went further than the Moon — no Mars colony, no 2001 odysseyto Jupiter, no speed-of-light spaceships. Even the Shuttle is introuble.
But the space race against the Russians that dominated thenational psyche (and a good chunk of the budget) in the ’60s and ’70s pushedthe development of hundreds of enabling technologies, including synthetic fibresand integrated computer circuits, necessary to fly men to the Moon andback. And the astronauts brought back a lesson from space: “We saw theearth the size of a quarter, and we realized then that there is only one earth.We are all brothers. “With the revolution of space flight launching networksatellites that has enabled global connections that has enabled globalcommunication.Personalcomputers: Before IBM recast the desktop computer fromhobbyist’s gadget to office automation tool in 1983 followed by Apple’speople-friendly Macintosh a year later a “minicomputer” was the size of awashing machine and required a special air-conditioned room.
But thetrained technicians who operated the old mainframes already knew computers werecool: They could use them to play games, keep diaries, and trade messages withfriends across the country, while still looking busy. Today, thanks tothe PC, we all look busy. Digitalmedia: “The camera doesn’t lie” went a saying not heard much since therelease of Photoshop 1.0 in 1990. Digitized audio, pictures, movies, andtext let even an amateur edit reality — or conjure it from scratch — with akeyboard and a mouse. A singer’s bad notes, a model’s blemishes, or anovercast sky in a movie scene can be fixed as easily as a spelling error.
Just as important, digital media can be copied over and over nearly for free,stored permanently without fading, and sent around the world in seconds. It rightly worries the movie and music industries, but how do you put the genieback in the bottle if there’s no bottle anymore?TheInternet: This one seems like a no-brainer, but the Net’sunique strength is that no two people will agree on why it’s soimportant. The world’s largest and most unruly library, it’s also aglobal news channel, social club, research archive, shopping service, townhall, and multimedia kiosk. Add to that the most affordable mass mediumever, and a curse to anyone with a secret to keep. Three-fifths ofAmericans now use the Net, but it remains to be seen whether the connections toone another will transform us, or prove that we’ll never change. TV: Barely20 years after radio shook the entertainment landscape, broadcast televisionsent out another temblor in the 1930s and 1940s. Television changed everythingfrom the way people got their news to how advertising was done.
Despite being blamed for everything from our sedentarylifestyles to societal violence, TV isn’t going anywhere, and in fact anincredible number of waking ours are spent in front of the boob tube. Lastyear, a Nielson report estimated that Americans watch more than 5 hours a day,on average. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) recently estimated that,recession be danged, ownership of high-definition TVs in U.S. households hasdoubled in the past two years.Radio: WhenGuglielmo Marconi patented his radiotelegraph system in 1901, he envisioned itas a way for ships to wirelessly communicate with one another. But by the1920s, regular broadcasts of music and news exploded, ushering in a new era ofmass media. From baby monitors to military radar, radio is now firmlyentrenched in everyday life.
The ability to harness radio waves eventually madepossible all forms of wireless networking, from cell phones to Wi-Fi. ThePrinting Press: The original game-changing gadget was toobig to fit in your pocket, but it revolutionized literacy all the same. Around1450, German goldsmith Johannes Gutenburg transformed printing with his press,a table-sized machine modelled after the wine presses of the day.
The inventionused thousands of movable metal letters to quickly and cheaply copy text.Gutenburg’s press took the spread of ideas out of the hands of elites and pavedthe way for the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment.