When “Star Trek” first showed up on our big Zenith black and white console TV up in Oakwood my parents didn’t think it had much chance of catching on.
It definitely caught on with me. But that was along about the time that I was entering high school, trading in my crew cut for enough hair to be parted, and in the market for more adventurous television fare than “The Donna Reed Show” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”. So when Captain Kirk opened that first episode of “Star Trek” by promising to “boldly go where no man has gone before” he was definitely talking to me.
And when he flicked open his little communication device and ordered Scotty to beam him up I told my folks that it would be groovy – I would certainly have said “groovy”, it being one of the essential words of that era – to have a phone like that.
The look they gave me said that having a telephone that small and wireless was about as likely to happen as the beaming up. Remember, this was 1966. The one phone in our house was a heavy dial model tethered to the wall in our utility room and was the color of a pale avocado, the unfortunate hue of many an appliance back then.
If my parents, both long gone, could see the cell phone that I take for granted today they would consider it the magical handiwork of wizards.
After nearly being rear-ended or run off the highway several times by other drivers yakking on cell phones and texting I’m not at all sure anymore that the little device Captain Kirk used was such a great idea. But I still ooh and ahh a bit at every new gizmo that comes along.
The first actual cordless mobile telephone I ever saw was about the size of a loaf of bread. Then they quickly got smaller and cheaper. It’s funny – and happily ironic – that new doodads, unlike other commodities, usually get cheaper as they get smaller and better.
Here’s a case in point. The first handheld calculator I ever laid eyes on was in a post exchange at my army base in Germany in 1973. It was made by Texas Instruments, had exactly four functions – add, subtract, divide, and multiply – and it would have set me back a large chunk of my entire monthly pay check to purchase it. It was, in fact, so expensive that it was displayed in a locked glass case, like a diamond necklace at Tiffany’s.
Years later I was given a calculator exactly like that one as a gift for opening a checking account in a bank.
Then there was my first video player-recorder. It was called a Betamax and was as large as a small suitcase. The VHS that replaced it was about half the size and the cost, and the disc player I have now is a slim unit that can be easily held in one hand. Of course my wife Karen and I never use it because, since buying it, we’ve gotten a magic little box from the outfit that provides our hundreds of channels that lets us record things to watch and rent movies without driving anywhere to do it.
Technology marched on, and in no time at all there were flat screen televisions, universal remote controls, computers, laptop computers, hand held computers, wrist watch computers, thermometers without mercury, GPS devices to lead us directly to our destinations, and cars that will parallel park themselves when we get there.
I constantly remind my writing students to pay close attention to details when spinning a yarn set in the past, even the recent past, lest they have a microwave oven pop up in a story before that handy device was invented. And when their story is set in the future, it’s fun to see what magical things they predict.
Who knows what will be next?
But, whatever it is, I’ll likely gawk at it like the little 1920’s farm boy in the old joke who sees his first elevator on a trip with his family to a hotel in town. After his mother had climbed the stairs to their room he and his father watched a plump, frowning, middle-aged lady push a button that caused a door to slide open. She stepped in, the door closed, and a little arrow over the door moved from one to five. A few minutes later the arrow moved back to one. The door slid open, and an absolutely gorgeous, smiling, slim young lady stepped out.
Father and son were at a complete loss for words for a long moment. Then the little boy broke the silence.
“Daddy,” he whispered, “what just happened?”
His father rubbed his chin and thought a bit.
“I don’t rightly know, son,” he said. “But go get your mother.”
[This trip down technology memory lane first appeared as a newspaper column in 2011]