Technology is Us (1)

One of the great scenes in cinema is from 2001: A Space Odyssey

We see an ape remove itself from the gang in a pre-human landscape.

Taking a large bone, it smashes it against rocks. It may be the world’s first hammer, the first tool.
Then the bone is thrown spinning skywards where, with a sharp film cut, it becomes a space station.

There is a long and rich history from pre-human tool use to the most advanced technologies of today.

And with each new major technology, our culture changes. The way we live changes.

Whether the pen is mightier than the sword or not, both started life as sticks. The first writing was done with a stick tracing shapes on the ground. The first weapons were sticks – clubs and spears. Writing and weaponry are major technologies that have changed the world. We take them for granted but they are all around us.

Th image on the left shows the BBC’s radio aerials from the 2LO transmitter in London’s Oxford Street in 1926. Early radio had one station (as did television until 1955 when ITV was added). Very few people were in range of the signals.

The image on the right is of a modern digital transmitter, one of thousands throughout Britain. It transmits thousands of radio and music stations, television stations and the massive worldwide web. The large majority of British people have access.

The image on the right shows a 192os radio. The one on the left is a pocket transistor radio that became popular in the late 1950s onwards, especially with young people. It was very usual to see young music lovers walking around with the radio pressed to their ear (though there was also a simple in-ear mono earphone that came with the device.

Early electronics was based around the thermionic vacuum valve. Valves consumed a great deal of electricity, wore out quickly and the glass broke easily too. In the 1940s along came the transistor (centre) to replace the valve, with a low energy consumption , much smaller and unbreakable reliability. The integrated circuit on the right, a ‘chip’ contains the equivalent of many thousands of transistors. Chips get smaller and more powerful by the year.

The first electronic digital computer is generally recognised as the ENIAC, 1943 (left). It contained 18.000 valves (see above, weighed 30 tons and cost,in today’s money $6 million. The smart watch on the right has immensely more computer power. A basic smart watch can be had for less than £10.

Early mobile phones were very heavy, had very limited range and were extremely expensive. Modern smartphones are relatively cheap for most people. With thousands of apps and access to thousands of businesses they are points of sale for everything from a pair of shoes to a casino bet. They have given rise to huge social media industries, 24/7 opportunities for watching films or listening to music, and also a range of supports for health and wellbeing.

Electronic media will become extensions of our nervous systems

Marshall McLuhan, 1962


When the ‘magic lantern’ first appeared, the earliest film projector, it was a fairground sideshow.

Nobody remotely understood that cinema would become a multi-trillion pounds industry that would impact on our ways of life.

While military and ship-to-shore radio was established in the first decades of the twentieth century, most people thought the idea of sitting by a box listening to voices and music was ridiculous.

Today, because of technological advances, whether we like it or not we are all inhabitants of a digital planet.

Just a concluding question: before we became extensions of digital machinery, before we gave so much of ourselves to digital connection what did we do? How did our grandparents or their ancestors live differently?
1939 advertisement about the coming of television to the USA

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