Life in the Box: Devices and Change


I’ve been making lists of what has changed since I graduated from high school (1975), and a funny thought occurred to me: almost every change in our daily, personal lives is related to the refinement and miniaturization of computers and the sharing of digits through the air and through physical connections like phone lines.

Here’s a loose timeline of our adoption of computerized devices and programs, and the little and big ways they have changed just about everyone’s life since 1975:

Satellites first world-wide electronic distribution system (1960s)
Cable TV required special phone lines, widened choices
Phone message machines let us leave home instead of waiting for callers
Video recorders let us watch and share TV and movies
Remote controls convenience
Desktop, personal computers no longer taking up entire rooms
Voice Mail no more message machines needed
E-mail men suddenly learned how to type
Search engines CompuServe to Google, making fewer trips to physical reference libraries
Spell check goodbye dictionaries
Chat rooms start meeting strangers based on common interests
Web sites suddenly every business needed one
E-serve newsletters pushed information to people, they didn’t have to search, & they could respond
Lap Tops Improved portability
Wi-Fi Improved portability
Cell phones Improved portability, cell tower construction, multiplies usability (coverage)
Thumb Drives, SD cards, DVDs Sharing easier, including videos
Blogs, Facebook everyone can now publish, free
Fiber Optic networks faster connections
Video streaming don’t have to rely on broadcasters or cable companies
Video telephone Skype, free long-distance, world-wide facetime
Satellite phones and GPS Location finding in real-time
Smart phones computers in a pocket, can now remotely view and control home and other on/off switches
High Definition TV TV with magazine-quality visuals, and still improving
Eyes and Ears Everywhere Candid Camera is now a reality. Privacy and anonymity? Not so much.  

In our adult lives, we’ve gone from house-sized computers used rarely, and only with permission–to computers everywhere in every house, car, business, elevator, and even in some of our bodies.  And the thing is, most of us can afford to own a few, if not all of the computers we need. And we use them daily to answer questions, connect with distant friends and family, and do our jobs.

In just four decades, how we do things, and the scale and speed of how we can do them, has changed drastically.  Computers have opened up possibilities that did not exist before. But, we are still human, and limited by our own imaginations, talents, choices, and politics. Let’s hope we can grow our minds and spirits to use these tools ever more wisely in the decades ahead. Let’s hope Don McLean will never have to write a song about “The Day the Computer Died.”

author-picture2smallerNancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she uses gems from this treasure trove of life stories to add sparkle to her reflections on the creative process both inside and outside the box.