News / USA

Technology Keeps Astounding and Amazing

But what's new and hot today will be antiquated before you know it

Millions of American adults might recall phonograph records, cameras with flashbulbs and telephones with rotary dials, but their children won't.
Millions of American adults might recall phonograph records, cameras with flashbulbs and telephones with rotary dials, but their children won't.

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Ted Landphair

Paul Harris, a Missouri broadcaster who writes a popular personal Web log, published a column in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper in which he listed some of the things in his life that his 12-year-old daughter will grow up knowing nothing about.

Little things, mostly.

Cranking up the windows in the family car, for instance. There are no cranks in today's automobiles. Electric buttons and digital displays control everything.

This is, or was, an ice box, in which a huge block of ice was placed in a zinc-lined portion of the cabinet. A drainage hose carried the water away as the ice melted.
This is, or was, an ice box, in which a huge block of ice was placed in a zinc-lined portion of the cabinet. A drainage hose carried the water away as the ice melted.

Like millions of other American adults, Harris recalls phonograph records, cameras with flashbulbs, telephones with rotary dials, long-distance calls that only an operator could place, motels that proudly advertised their air-conditioned rooms, and gas stations where a rubber hose would go ding-ding when entering cars drove over it. The bell alerted the attendant that someone needed gas and a window-cleaning. These days, customers fill their own tanks and clean their own windows, since there are no attendants in most stations.

Paul Harris's column got us thinking of some other things that American kids are missing, such as slide rules; defrosting the refrigerator with pans of hot water, or chipping out the build-up with a sharp ice pick; buying a vacuum cleaner from a door-to-door salesman; televisions that brought in just three or four fuzzy stations; double-features, cartoons, and multi-part short adventure stories at the movies; and driving around without seat belts.

Note the window crank on the driver's-side door of this 1946 DeSoto. No automatic up-down button. No digital control. If you wanted air, you had to roll down the window yourself.
Note the window crank on the driver's-side door of this 1946 DeSoto. No automatic up-down button. No digital control. If you wanted air, you had to roll down the window yourself.

You couldn't buckle up if you wanted to, since before the 1960s, there were no belts in the car.

Just as we can't expect today's children to understand what it means to crank up the window, you'd best not ask them to meet you at quarter past five. You need an analog watch with moving hands to get a quarter of the way around the dial. It's a digital world now. A more comfortable and convenient world.

But maybe not as simple a one.

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