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Technological Advances that Seemed Like Magic Part 1

by Beth Divine 13 Jun 2018

I am fortunate that in my lifetime (and I’m not incredibly old) I have seen a wave of technological advances the like of which put the Industrial Revolution to shame. Colour television had not long been invented and many people still had black and white sets in my extreme youth, video players were a sign of affluence and microwaves tended to be huge, heavy (and dangerous) pieces of equipment used by institutions, rather than the lightweight, (safer) table-top versions that grace most homes now. Remote controls were held to be time-saving, near magical inventions that helped the elderly and the exhausted enjoy their favourite shows, whereas nowadays there are voice-controlled smart televisions, televisions that can out themselves away at the foot of the bed, and television that can be watched on phones, tablets and laptops, both with and without access to an internet connection thanks to the innovation of downloadable shows on television streaming apps.

Phones went, through my teens  and early twenties, from clunky Bakelite apparatuses (which had a set place in the home and even pieces of furniture designed to hold the phone, with a shelf below for phone books, and a small, single-person seat so one could sit in comfort and make a call – walking about while holding the phone was a no-no as the cord was usually fairly short) to car phones and cordless house phones (both still needing a wired base, but now allowing more freedom of movement) to ‘bricks’ (huge, sturdy mobile phones that could make and receive calls, send and receive SMSs and on which you could play heavily pixelated  monochrome games like Nokia’s world famous Snake) to the advent of the smartphone, and its evolution into the essential device that it is today.

On television shows like A Town Called Eureka, the idea of ‘smart houses’ was touted in a positive light. Previously, ideas about robotic houses, and those controlled by artificial intelligence were usually presented from a position of fear, with the so-called smart house ending up killing its lawful inhabitants by being hacked to view them as intruders… Sarah, the name of the smart house in Eureka, was generally a force for good, although even she was, in one memorable episode, hacked to make the lives of her inhabitants most uncomfortable…  But assistants like Alexa and Amazon Echo are now quite common, with people enjoying the ability to add, for example, toilet roll to the shopping list – or even order it directly – while sitting on the loo with proof of the need right in front of them… Smart houses can be programmed to control the appliances, the heating and even the security system, ensuring that the owner can have a cosy warm house waiting without wasting the heating budget, and ensuring that the oven switches itself on in time for dinner to be ready as you walk in the door – a host of improvements that make busy working lives so much easier to manage!

Many of these advances seem humdrum to us,  but it is incredible to think that a mere thirty or so years ago, much of what we take for granted in our everyday lives – GPS, apps on phones, digital cameras, even broadband and never mind Wi-Fi – had simply not been considered remotely possible.