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Appreciating Stone Age Computer Gadgets

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I was just using my HTC Hero to get traffic conditions and directions across town, and it took forever. The memory on the phone was overloaded, and I had to wait about one whole minute!

During this interminable period of time, I found myself reflecting on the world 20 years ago. If I wanted to get directions, I had to find a Map. To find the street name, I would have to look at the legend on the back, plan out the longitude and latitude, and manually plan my route. As for traffic conditions… there was no possible way. I couldn’t call anyone on the road. There was no way to access the government’s early stage GPS satellites.

It was really a different world. I knew I could use a little humility, and take time to appreciate all the stuff we take for granted with our modern gadgets compared to what it was like in the “old” days.

1. Computers. Holy geez. Back in 1991, I had a 386 Processor which ran at 40 MHz. That’s less than 1% the speed of a crappy laptop today. We were still using 1.44 MB floppy discs. The computer speakers barely emitted beeps and boops without an expensive sound card. Today, you can drop less than $30 on the Cyber Acoustics CA 3602 and get Dolby quality stereo sound.

2. Video. VHS anyone? Clunky with big tapes, mediocre image quality and weighing in at over $1000. Nowadays you can pocket an HD image for less than a Benjamin. Old tape to tape editing systems required that you literally play a tape and manually record it to another deck. Now, you do it with a computer. Video production used to cost tens of thousands of dollars but now teenagers are making special effects being seen by millions on Youtube.

3. Internet. Remember Dial Up, when AOL was king? I don’t even want to explain this difference between then and now. Let’s just say if you told someone you just “Googled” yourself in 1991, you’d get a very different reaction. Setting up a website took an advanced degree. As we saw in “The Social Network”, you couldn’t even find web hosting; you needed to use a computer as your own server.

4. Phones. I tried explaining to a 17-year-old what a pager was, and they just couldn’t understand it. They also couldn’t understand the idea of only having one phone in your house, and if your Mom was talking to her friend for 2 hours, you couldn’t get in touch with your friends.

5. TV. Back in 1991, TV shows were not as epic as they are today. No “Breaking Bad”, “Walking Dead”, “Entourage”, or “Lost” caliber stories. CNN was also the only 24 hour news channel. Actually, that was a good thing.

This list could go on, but it’s enough to think about for now. People have an insatiable appetite for new technology, but it’s always good to think back on how it used to be, to get some perspective and appreciation.

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