The lullaby of The Technojungle

“The numbing affect that technology has on us. Kind of lulling us into a false sense of security.”

The above came from a publisher friend in a reply to one of my E-mails. Not long after I received it, I awoke one morning with these two sentences at the front of my mind and the word ‘lull’ leaping out and rolling around in my thoughts as if a revelation.

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To be lulled is to be calmed and soothed to sleep; to give or lead to feel a false sense of safety; cause to be less alert, aware, or watchful; to cause (someone) to feel safe and relaxed instead of careful and alert; to cause to relax vigilance <were lulled into a false sense of security>.

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This is a time when people can become almost drunk with technology. Our gadgets can soothe and entice us. Go to a coffee shop, dentist or doctor’s office, or any place where people gather and where they once may have read a magazine or entered into conversation with each other, you will find so many peering into their gadgets, immersed and captivated.

I go from room to room in my house and carry with me my smartphone, just in case I get a call. This just happened. I was out of the room for only a minute and the phone rang. I had to run to catch it. When I first heard of online banking, I said to myself, “I will never do that, I know how unsafe the Internet is.” I must confess, I have been lulled into online banking.

Even when we know better, we can easily be lulled in. When it comes to technology, we need to be vigilant and carefully intentional in how we allow it into our life. If we are not, we risk being consumed by the expansion of technology in our society that competes for our attention.

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For many people, technology is security in a world of complexities that can bring anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. In these times of constant rapid change and dangers of terrorism, we feel the need to be informed and connected to each other. Yet technology works both ways—good and bad. The more technology we have to make us feel secure, the more technology we need to maintain that security. Consider the technologies use in warfare. They don’t end war or even make it better, so often they make it worse. Gunpowder was going to end war. Even with very sophisticated technologies, errors occur that kill innocent people.

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We need to keep in mind that as we nestle with our comforting and ever growing technologies, older technologies sneak up on us and can deliver us a surprise. The war on terrorism proves this. While consumed fighting the high-tech side, someone walks in with an old fashioned bomb.

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Most corporations, including financial institutions, fight constant attacks from cyber criminals who breach the security systems of their computers in what can only be described as common and inevitable cyber terrorism. If only we knew what truly goes on with cyber terrorism daily behind the scenes of our lives, we would lose any confidence we have in the systems of our society. There is an on-going escalation of technology to provide security in the flimsy online world we have come to rely on.

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What goes hand in hand with security is privacy. It seems a safer world where everything is monitored by cameras. Even where cameras are not yet permanently mounted, everyone has one in their phone and someone is always perfectly willing to capture an event. With facial recognition software, evil doers can be picked out of a crowd. This all sounds like it brings a safer more secure world, yet, we give up our privacy. This seems to be part of an axiom these days. That technology feeds us security which we pay for with our privacy. Sometimes we lose both our security and privacy at the same time.

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The smartphone seems to have become the security blanket for many people. While allowing us to connect with each other at will, it also reveals where we are. All cellphones constantly tell the service provider where they are. Want to make sure you can track everyone, make sure everyone has a cell phone. How do you make sure everyone has a cell phone, make smartphones that can do things that people can’t do without. Interestingly, someone was just telling me of a trend back to regular cellphones. Dumbphones?

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Everything we do involving the Internet leaves a trail. Each one of us is leaving our footprints on computer servers all over the world to be tracked and followed by those who might seek us, such as advertisers. One might say they don’t care about advertisers, or anyone else following them, however, if advertising did not work to influence our lives, companies would not spend trillions of dollars on it.

People seem all to willing to post much of their life on social media, thereby surrendering, piece by piece, their privacy and security—who they are. You are your privacy and security; it is a huge aspect of you. Social medias are not free services, they turn their users into products and their information into profit by selling links to advertisers. It could be one of the greatest scams ever.

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Sure the sea of information out there in the cyber world may be seen as a place where your information is lost in the abyss with others. Yet today vast super computing power can search that information to discover valuable chunks of data that can be linked together and used for purposes we could never imagine. As more devices become computerized and ‘smart,’ there will be an explosion of information gathering. As we look toward the horizon of technological change we see computers with artificial intelligence out-thinking humans and using all this gathered information.

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There are times of the year such as during the post-holiday lull when we often look for relief from the doldrums of life. Let us remember that we need to be wary of the numbing affects of technology and not be lulled into a false sense of security. This is a time when we must learn how to be more human and not fooled by the temptations of technology.

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Let’s think about it!

© 2015 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

Smart machines of the Technojungle (Blog version)

This is the first article in a series of six that look at artificial intelligence from a human perspective. This first one appears on this blog, the other five will be included in the up coming book—The future never arrives… at least not as expected and it always brings baggage.

 

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The notion of humans developing smart artificially intelligent machines has been around for a few decades. Perhaps it represents the holy grail of human ingenuity and invention. Admittedly I had never thought the idea through. To sufficiently understand how these machines might work and what smart machines in our lives might look like.

As I have been working my way through the material for my book, artificial intelligence (AI) has naturally surfaced. Some sort of AI is a reality now in things like Siri on the iPhone. Even smarter AI is getting closer. That has caused more than one person, such as Stephen Hawking, to ring alarm bells announcing something like, AI could be the last invention humans make. A smart machine would essentially amplify the human mind; it might very well out-think humans and over-take them.

As I began to think about the possible AI scenarios, I connected the dots of some other ideas like ‘big data,’ ‘the Internet of things’ (IoT) and ‘the Internet of everything’ (IoE). With big data, the vast amount of unstructured information we have been dumping on the Internet for decades can now be processed with huge computing power available today. IoT and IoE is the goal of putting a computer in everything and connecting them with each other and the Internet.

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I began to realize that this could be a recipe for disaster, as a smart machine would be able to tap into all the information available on the Internet along with everything in our lives that is computerized. This began to look like a doomsday scenario for humans. How long could we live in a world of machines that just might begin to see us as an inferior nuisance?

Then I asked myself; just how accurate and true is the information on the Internet? I know that humans make mistakes and that not everything you find on the Internet should be believed. I have even heard people dismiss Wikipedia as inaccurate in many places. That can be seen in articles that are missing citations. I know that Facebook often shows me people I might want to connect with. Since I have never heard of many of them, I wonder why I would want to be ‘friends’ with them? Then there is the volumes of noise, that useless sea of information senselessly dumped on the networks. Of course I mustn’t leave out the fact that much information, for whatever reason, is in error. It might be information that has mistakes, or has expired. It might have been purposely and even maliciously made inaccurate, such as a scam or a review of a product placed to promote the product rather that give truthful representation of its value.

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If the Internet is being created by humans, then it stands to reason that it is a reflection of who humans are. Thus it must include all our faults. Suddenly I realized that plugging a smart machine into this abyss of information ranging in accuracy might actually not result in the desired outcomes we so treasure through all the promises of technology. How can smart machines assist humans with their daily lives if the information that is available has holes in it?

We humans are duped often by inaccurate information. We also have some very sophisticated abilities to determine that which we choose to believe as accurate. This could range from our experience, to intuition, to our beliefs and values that guide our decision making processes. I have concluded that an AI computer may never be able to make the same decisions we make. That having such machines be guided by what is available on the Internet might actually be no better than what we can do for ourselves, perhaps even worse.

My recent declaration to people I meet has been that we should be nurturing those aspects of being human that a computer would not be able to mimic. I have been stating that we need to be more creative, emotional, inspirational, irrational—the list can go on. I have been advocating that we borrow from the essence of what jazz music is to live a life free from the often enslaving attributes of the Technojungle.

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Now that I take a closer look, the Internet is, truly in many ways, a reflection of who humans are, faults and all, inaccuracies and all. Smart machines might quite simply get lost on the many paths and trails we humans have weaved through the Technojungle we created. Where would that leave us if we have decided that technology will always improve humankind?

In the end, the jungle, the Technojungle, keeps growing, but it remains a jungle. No matter what we do with machines, or what machines try to do with us, the human element is always there and that make it a jungle. The Technojungle exists because of the differences between humans and machines.

Let’s think about it!

Next: Hunting on the human trail
The next article and the entire series of six, will appear in the upcoming book mentioned at the beginning of this article.

© 2014 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

The real ‘Final Frontier’

As we hurl ourselves down the technological path toward a life assisted by artificial intelligence, we need to ask some questions that have been asked for decades by science fiction writers. These are serious questions that we all should be asking and considering. Turning our lives over to intelligent machines might just have some pitfalls that we may not foresee.

The truth is that we are not living simple harmonious lives with our technology. Our lives are complex, full of anxieties and overwhelming. Technology is developing faster than we can keep up. We simply ‘attempt’ to find a way of managing. In the midst of all the technology and information clutter, we are being led into a life where very smart, artificially intelligent, machines are going to be integrated ever deeper into our lives and in very important aspects of our lives.

Fifty years ago, around 1965, likely a couple of years later, the sci-fi TV show Star Trek became popular. It was different, not like the usual spaceship from Mars or the monsters from outer space. This show had deep drama and looked at some serious questions in an entertaining way. It actually had a small budget, but I liked it. I would never have called myself a Trekie, however, I can look back and see how metaphorically, the show can teach us about some of the issues and possible circumstances we may have or be facing.

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There are many episodes I could write about. However for now, let me pick one, The Ultimate Computer, and recount what I can from mostly memory. In this particular episode, a super computer is installed on the Starship Enterprise and given full control. Most of the crew are given leave and the ship has a skeleton crew. After some simple maneuvering exercises, everyone is amazed. Another starship captain said to Kirk, “My regards to Captain Dunsail.” Nobody understands what that means. Mr. Spock explains that it is a term used among midshipmen to refer to a part which serves no purpose. The comment is meant to indicate that Captain Kirk is no longer needed. A human replaced by a machine. Several starships engage the Enterprise in some war game exercises. The computer mistakenly thinks the Enterprise is actually under attack. Kirk, realizing that something is going wrong, commands the helmsman to break-off the attack. When the helm doesn’t respond, Kirk orders manual over-ride to no avail. By now the computer has had the Enterprise destroy a cargo ship and damage a starship killing crew members. Thus they head to the room where the computer is to see how they might get it to respond. With communications cut off, they are unable to contact the other starships to explain what is happening.

Finally, it was determined that the plug should be pulled. Strangely, as I recall, it was actually plugged into the wall. A man goes to the plug and a blue beam is sent across the room by the computer across the room and the man was killed. The man who created the computer stated that the computer needed more power and the man got in the way. Kirk’s memorable reply, I think was, “How long until we all just get in the way?” Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy states that the computer inventor is unstable and becoming psychotic.

They are in a typical Star Trek pickle for which there seems to be no solution. The computer is using the Enterprise to shoot up other starships and there is no way to stop it. Once again, it takes Captain Kirk to save the day. Under the threat of an order from another captain to the other Federation vessels to destroy the Enterprise, he decides to persuade the computer to break-off the attack. He learns that the computer must protect humans. When Kirk points out that the computer is killing humans and asks what the penalty is for murder, the computer drops the shields that protects the ship from the retaliation of the other starships and turns itself off. The crew were able to take back control of the Enterprise. Kirk however orders that the shields remain down and that the ship remain dead looking. They would not defend the Enterprise and would risk being destroyed.

This episode, like most Star Trek episodes, metaphorically presents us with some important issues to consider in our current relationship with technology. We are entering the final frontier. It is not necessarily space, although that is certainly a part. The frontier we are entering is of sharing our lives with artificially intelligent machines—perhaps even becoming nearly one with our machines. Machines that have access to all the knowledge we have stored on the Internet, to information that we are willingly allowing the Internet to collect about us daily—machines that can amplify the human mind and eventually out-think humans. An important point here that will be discussed further in another article is that much of the information on the Internet is inaccurate, even false, or at the least, often noise.

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The computer in the Star Trek episode, is allowed to have full control of the ship and the lives of all those left on board. It makes a fatal mistake of mis-interpreting what are supposed to be exercises to evaluate the effectiveness of the computer. In a simulated attack situation, the computer believes it is under an actual attack. We can argue that safeguards may be developed to protect an artificially intelligent system from technical errors, from malicious attack and other possible ways it might malfunction. But, what happens when the machine simply makes a mis-judgement. We humans and our methods of communicating are complex. There are ways we understand each other through language and other means that a machine might not interpret in the same way. What if, in protecting its group of humans, it attacks another group when it perceives that the other group is hostile in some way? What happens when our computers lock-out human intervention?

The computer installed on the Enterprise is somehow based on the mind of the man who developed it. As the man exhibits unstable behaviours, so does the computer. If we do this with our machines, might we also transfer those aspects or characteristics that cause us to have discrepancies among ourselves that lead to war? If we become machines in this way, we could be no better off than we are now as flesh and blood.

We know that the Internet was invented during the Cold War of the 1960s and that one of the goals is for it to be able to survive any sort of attack, such as a nuclear holocaust. In other words, the Internet can’t be turned off or disconnected. Sound familiar? If we tell the machine, as they did in the Star Trek episode, that the situation is only an exercise, will the machine believe us? Or, might it think that our statement is dis-information and part of the attack? Any sort of ‘protect the human’ mandate could easily result in a ‘protect the human at any cost mandate.’ Does the computer protect a single human it is assigned to? A particular group? Or, will the machine have to figure out how to protect all humans at any cost? What might we have to destroy to stop a machine that is out of control?

A man trying to pull the plug, was killed. The explanation given was that he simply got in the way. Might we eventually simply get in the way of our intelligent machines? If the mandate of the machine is to protect humans, then it must protect itself above that mandate or else it would fail. How long until a machine perceives something we do as a hostile action against it? Will our machines all be linked to work together, or will we have several, or thousands, or millions of those smart machines working independently or, in some way, inter-dependently? How will they work together and not end up working against each other and against some humans? What might have happened if all the starships had the same computer testing each other?

We are on the verge of having autonomous driving cars. Should we take a look at the metaphorical story presented to us in this episode of Star Trek before we release ourselves to the fate of machines? Once we have this technology installed and are using it, if we determine that we no longer wish to use it, will we be able to disconnect it? What about other technology applications of smart artificially intelligent machines, such as information and communications?

There is another problem. Suppose we are successful in developing machines that can take over functions that humans can do? This already exists and has for decades. How many of us actually do math in our heads? Do we not turn to a calculator? How about spelling? I used to know many telephone numbers that I could recall as I would dial, almost automatically. Today, I probably only know two. In the field of education, we have a saying, “Use it or lose it.”

Imagine the Enterprise has been operated for a long period of time under the control of a machine. A situation arises where a human needs to intervene and even take over. At best, the person, the Captain, would be rusty. At worse, those fantastic skills of running a starship might even be lost. As we turn over our tasks to machines and come to rely on machine support in our lives, we find our abilities diminish and may disappear.

I suggest we cultivate and nurture the qualities that truly make us human. As the Enterprise, by Captain Kirk’s order, lies disabled, shields down, open to attack, the commander of the Federation starship war games orders that all the other ships to stand down. When questioned about his dangerous decision, Kirk replies, “I gambled on Bob Wesley’s humanity.” McCoy’s comment is poignant, that compassion is something that computers will never have. Let us consider other human qualities that a computer may never have.

This is the real ‘Final Frontier’.

Let’s think about it!

© 2014 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

Scanning and skimming for the message (as published in The Light Magazine)

In the olden days of the newspaper business, not so long ago, newspapers sold advertising and the reporters wrote to fill the spaces left over. Because it was difficult to determine the exact size of the hole the story would fill, writers were required to write so that the piece could be chopped at any point and still convey the most important points. Phototypesetting machines turned out long strips of paper called galleys. These paper strips were waxed and pasted-up on a large sheet of paper the size of the newspaper page with a grid printed on it. This grid sheet caused the galley of text to flow around the advertising. When the space was filled, the galley was chopped with a razor blade. Many readers actually read the entire paper in those days.

While advertising still drives the space for content, the way newspapers are read has somewhat changed, thanks to the Internet. Most people today are immersed in an overwhelming sea of various types of information from numerous sources. It is not humanly possible to keep up. E-mail alone can occupy a large portion of reading time. The result of this information overload is that we have become a society of scanners and skimmers. Worried that we might miss something important, we scan the newspaper, or any other information source, for what might be important. When we think we have found something, we skim it.

Scanning and skimming is not new; however it has become an essential skill. If we cultivate this skill, we can learn to spot important information, such as medically-related, and gain necessary time to be able to read it properly. An important aspect of life in the information age is the amount of noise. Noise is considered the not important information that vies for our attention. Remove it and what is left is considered the signal, or main message that is important to you.

Today, instead of in-depth content, we find space-constricted print and click-driven eContent. As printing becomes more expensive and an environmental concern, more content is migrating to the Internet, combined with other media. Take a look around at online content. Much of it is spread among many pages. Advertising costs in print are based on the portion of a page consumed and the position in the publication. In the online world, advertisers pay for clicks. A page with shorter content costs the same as a long page of content. Splitting the content up can generate more clicks and thus more revenue for the publication. While a long page is harder to read, the extra click can mean the loss of the reader, if they decide they have read enough.

We are an attention-split society. This ball we call Earth is becoming like a giant brain with expanding networks of neurones. It overwhelms us with information as our attention span keep shrinking. Young people find they must do several things at once in a desperate attempt to keep up. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the millennial generation is spending 18 cumulative hours a day on media.

My kids gave up on E-mail years ago. We were told to use texting if we wanted to communicate with them. Text is an on-going short conversation that slips away. There is a sense among many youth that nothing is important or has value. Having to deal with an E-mail inbox that keeps filling up requires too much time.

What does all this mean for Christians? According to the Barna Group, a Christian research organization, ‘…while the Church is often accused of being several steps behind the culture at large, Barna’s research shows practicing Christians want to keep up with culture and trends just as much as anyone else…’ They continue with ‘…people want to be culturally informed, but they are becoming accustomed to skimming content.’ Yet in today’s 24-hour news cycle, “keeping up” can be hard work. The socialization of news has created an international, ongoing conversation that never sleeps.’

We need to become the editor for our lives. Armed with our virtual razor blade, we need to chop the galleys of endless text and other media that we don’t need to read—think noise. I admit that I have to develop my skills. Like any skill, it takes a concerted effort to develop. I encourage you to join me in focusing on skimming media carefully and then scanning contents for the message. Say no to noise and yes to the Message.

Editors Note: Is there something you want to say? Send in your Viewpoint (500 – 750 words) to editor@lightmagazine.ca. Please note we cannot gaurantee publication of all the pieces we recieve.

September 2014 (2014-08-26)

 

 

Let’s think about it!

© 2014 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

We could watch the world in a tube

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In my life during 1965, the television was probably the most influential piece of technology. The invention of the television might well be connected to the telephone, another important influencer. In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell took sealed documents to the Smithsonian Institute. Word got out that the documents described an invention called a “photophone” that could send images mechanically. This started a flurry of activity and controversy. There was an illustration in Punch’s Almanac for 1879 depicting a “telephonoscope.”

In the early days, actually for most of its history, the TV was a box with a large cathode ray tube (CRT) inside that held the world ready for viewing. Without getting too technical and yet still describe the difference between the CRT TV and the TV of 2015, the cathode ray tube was a triangular shaped tube with an electron gun in the pointed part at the back of the TV. It was so long that there was a bump that stuck out five or six inches at the back of the TV, making it difficult to push the huge unit close to the wall. The front of the tube was the viewing surface and was round in the early days, but square in most cases by 1965.

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We actually had a round TV in a very large cabinet. It was a colour TV, which was a very new thing in those days. A couple of years prior to 1965, TVs began to go from black and white, actually a sort of bluish colour, to being wonderful “living” colour. I can remember the neighbours having the first colour TV. One of the first TV shows to be broadcast in colour was The Wonderful World of Disney, probably because they had a lot of colour content, from cartoons to movies, they could use. We would go over to the neighbours to watch Disney.

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It took quite a few years before most TV shows were in colour. Colour was an expensive process. There were only a half-dozen, or less, channels in those days, depending on where you lived. The stations were broadcast from local transmitters and the TV would pick up the broadcast with rabbit ears. Rabbit ears were two long metal telescopic spikes called antennas or aerials that pointed at an angle in opposite directions but came together at the bottom to form a V-shape where they connected in a small box with a wire that lead to the TV. Some people actually had a large antenna mounted on the roof of their house and a wire stretched from the roof to the TV set.

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CRT TVs were not instant on. Often the volume knob was the on switch. One would turn the knob, it would click to on and then turn a little more to get the desired volume. But wait. Yes, wait. Both the CRT and the audio amplifier used tubes and thus had to warm up for many seconds. First, a small dot of light would appear in the centre of the screen. Sometime a flicker and soon an image would appear that might be distorted until all the tubes were warm in the TV set.

That might be only the start. One might have to adjust the antennas to get the best reception. Sometimes the TV set might need other adjustments. I mentioned a bit about the CRT earlier and said it was a gun. I’ll try to explain this as simply as I can without looking up the exact details of how it worked. I just want you to get the idea behind the device.

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The electron gun shot a beam to the front of the CRT which was coated with something, perhaps it was phosphorus. The phosphorus would light up. The beam could be directed to different places on the screen and the way the screen was filled with an image was to have the gun draw or scan lines across the screen. If one were to look very closely at the image on the screen they would see these scanned lines. I think there were around 525 lines and I don’t think this could be altered. If one had a larger TV, the scan lines would be larger. The gun would make a line across the top of the screen from left to right and then move down and draw another line, repeating to draw more lines until it reached the bottom of the screen where it would go back to the top and start again. All this happened so fast that the whole screen looked lit-up. The actual image was probably produced by varying the intensity of the beam. Less intensity at a certain point on the screen would produce a darker image. A colour TV had three guns, red, blue and green that would combine to scan colour on to the screen.

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Modern TVs use a liquid crystal display (LCD) or light emitting diode (LED) screen. This technology does away with the gun at the back of a big CRT and thus allows for the screen to be very thin. TVs are no longer boxes and large pieces of furniture. Because they are solid state digital technology with no tubes, they can be instant on and not restricted by the number of lines that can be scanned on the screen. They have other issues that govern the quality of the image which are outside the scope of this article.

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The television was invented in the late 1920s. I think I remember seeing the first image that was ever broadcasted. It was of Felix the Cat. Television technology was expensive and the Great Depression and then World War II delayed the TV from becoming the massive personal and societal influencer it has become. Prosperity came after the war and so did many new appliances. Modern technology was gaining a deep foothold on North American life. Western societies were ready for the TV by the late 1940s.

During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, people either listened to the radio or went out to see a movie, play or other form of entertainment. TV allowed people to stay home and see the world from their own living room. It was a natural step from the radio in the living room, but with an important difference. With radio, the listener would sit back and imagine the scene that the audio was depicting. This kept the mind as an active participant. The TV, with both audio and image, was much more passive. One simply had to watch and listen. There was much less thinking.

As television became more popular, it was considered somewhat a threat to radio, just as radio had threatened the phonograph recording industry, which had threatened the live entertainment industry. The movie industry began to scramble to come up with many new technological features from wide-screen to 3D.

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At first, shows were done as a stage play. The equipment was cumbersome and it was difficult to move around, so the viewer was sort of a member of the audience. It wasn’t long until more than one camera was being used. I think it was Desi Arnaz, the husband of Lucille Ball, and their I Love Lucy show that began to use more than one camera during the 1950s.

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Recording the television shows was very crude in the beginning. The kinescope was a process where a film camera was aimed at a TV to record the image on film. It was not long until the equipment became more compact and video tape recording was invented. Taping, allowed for shows to be delayed for better time periods different broadcast time zones, and for editing. As more satellites were put in orbit the possibilities of content were expanded since content could be gathered at one location and beamed to a satellite and then to another location in the world. It was in 1965 that the first commercial communication satellite, Intelsat 1, went into operation. Think for a moment how that event has changed the world.

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This brings us to 1965. The Vietnam War was on and I can remember well my father watching Walter Cronkite anchor the 6 PM CBS Evening News with very graphic reporting of the Vietnam War. This was the other side of the world in a tube in our house—a war in a tube in our house—at dinner time. Never before had war come to the dinner table. To me, this is a stark marker in how society had changed.

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Even with radio, it was turned on primarily to listen to a show. Perhaps one might listen to some music or a drama. One would listen and imagine. Nothing else was done. By 1965, we were eating while watching TV, mothers would iron clothes while watching a soap opera drama. Children would come home from school and plop themselves down in front of the TV to be parented. Parents didn’t have to worry that their child might be out somewhere getting into trouble. The world had changed forever. You didn’t have to go out into the world, it could come to you in a tube.

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Actually, children of the TV generation were being raised by the media. You could believe anything just because it was on TV. Children demanded the latest toy and the latest sugar-coated cereal. Children no longer made toys out of whatever was around and diets became processed by machines, preserved by chemicals and instantized. We were told it was fun, or that it was good for us.

Many toys, such as the Frisbee and the Yo-Yo, became ever cemented into the toy chest through the popularization by TV. The pace of life picked up as we struggled to mould our lives around our favourite TV shows. Often, there was no time to cook a meal, so companies, such as Swanson, seized on the opportunity and invented TV dinners. Just take the foil tray out of the box and place the frozen meal in the oven and, by the time the first commercial comes on the TV—perhaps even an advertisement for a TV dinner—your meal is ready, all segmented into sections of the tray. There was one indentation in the foil tray for meat, one for vegetables and one for potatoes. If that was too much, you could simply stop off at Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken (now, because of our rapid lives, often shortened to KFC) and bring home a bucket with everything in it, just in time to unfold the TV trays (small folding flimsy tables) to see your TV show.

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As modern life began to revolve more and more around the TV, we found we needed more and more TVs so each person could go to a separate room to watch their own favourite show. Just as with phones, why not have one in every room. I counted seven TVs in our house one day. One of our TVs was a Sony Trinitron. This TV ran for 30 years in our house and probably would have kept going had we not decided to move on to newer technology. Our Sony was one of what were commonly call portable TVs and generally had the rabbit ears built in.

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We would come home and turn on the TV to see what was on. If you didn’t want to watch what was on one channel, you would get up and turn the tuner dial to another station. It would click for each number on the dial. By 1965, there were more stations coming on and one would have to sit next to the TV and turn the dial to see what other channels have on. If there was a commercial on a particular channel, you would have to check other channels and come back, or wait until the program resumed. By the time you had checked all the channels, the shows would be changing and you would have to start over and by then your tea or coffee, or your TV dinner, would be cold.

I think Zenith was one of the first to solve the problem. They came up with a remote control that worked by a button that would create an audio tone. One could turn the TV on or off, raise or lower the volume in steps and, of course, and change the channel. Voila, problem solved. Well, partially. You still had to check all the channels and there was no jumping, you moved up the channels sequentially. But, you could stay in your seat and eat your ice cream before it melted. The invention of the remote, also invented channel surfing. However, there was one problem. At my friend’s house there was one of these TVs with the remote control. Sometimes the doorbell or the telephone would ring and operate the TV because the remote operations were accomplished with audio tones.

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Fifty years later, we have gone from a few channels to hundreds. It seems like we have more than the world in a tube. The TV has out-grown the tube. It is no longer the warm analog friend that was introducing us to the world in 1965. It is a digital portal to the universe. Gone are the rabbit ears; we now have a cable, like a giant pipe feeding us with whatever we want. Most channels do not go off the air in the middle of the night, displaying a test pattern. It all just keeps going as an endless flow ready to flood our minds at any time of the day or night. Television stations are no longer multinational corporations. Content providers who own the cables are no longer king. Content can come from a variety of sources and can be produced by almost anyone. The floodgates are open.

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I remember well when I first heard the idea of a flat TV that could hang on the wall like a picture. I imagined a wall with pictures hanging on it and a TV somewhere in the middle. There were other ideas of 3D and an entire wall as a TV. Even a holographic TV similar to the imaging device seen in the Star Wars movie. I am watching to see if the new 3D TVs of today will be a fad as it was with the movies of the 1950s. Today, we can have a TV on a table, on the wall, in our lap, in our hand, in our car, almost anywhere and it comes with more than TV. TV is only one part of the multi-communicative devices we have at our fingertips.

Our current family TV is a Panasonic that sits on the mantle above the electric fireplace in our townhouse. It is connected to a sound system, a Blu-Ray disc player and the Internet. We can do Skype or watch YouTube videos among many other content sources which we seldom use. We do not subscribe to cable television, but seem to get a dozen channels that come with our Internet subscription. That seems to be plenty for us. Even with only a similar number of channels that I had in 1965, I can end up watching far too many hours of TV. It is mesmerizing. I can’t even imagine how I would settle on a show to actually watch if we could get hundreds of channels. It boggles my mind. So, I sit and flip back and forth sometimes trying to watch more than one show on the few channels we get and attempting to get some things done on my computer at the same time. How do people with everything do it?

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