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Detonation: Modern Technology


John Lehenbauer
Aug 7, 2017
Photographers: John Lehenbauer
It is hard to remember the era when technology wasn’t involved with nearly every aspect of our lives. A period when you had to find a pay phone to make a call, actually type on a typewriter, or send your mail not with a keyboard but an envelope and a stamp. Those days are behind us; we have now become reliant on computers to run things for us every day. Microchips and circuit boards are the norm.
Computers have been around a lot longer than I have. The original concept dates back to World War II and a huge machine called Colossus that was built by the British to help break German soldiers’ secret codes. From that early time of simply crunching numbers, computers continue to be refined, getting smaller and more powerful every day.
Only recently has technology allowed the circuit board to become small enough for portability. I remember as a kid going on tours at McDonnell Douglas with my dad and walking through room after room of massive data processors and magnetic-tape data-storage devices. It took all that equipment to store the calculations and information needed to design and build aircraft parts. The reels even had to be changed regularly so there would be enough data-storage space to keep working. Looking back now, it all seems kind of funny to think that all that oversized equipment was state of the art in the ’70s and ’80s.
Photo 2/2   |   Here is a glimpse of the arsenal of technology I drag around with me. The only thing missing from the photo is the camera I used to take this photo.
Computers have come a long way since those reel-to-reel units. The laptop on which I’m typing this editorial fits in a backpack yet has more processing power than the room-sized monsters once used. The multi-terabyte drive I back files up on probably has more storage than all the reels Douglas ever used. Heck, my smartphone probably has some of those old units beat.
Although while growing up we had the latest video-game consoles and got to mess around with a few of the first PCs, I didn’t really start using a computer until I attended college. That’s when the need to actually use one arose. It was primarily used to write research papers and reports, because there really wasn’t a need to use them for much else. To find the information needed for my reports, I actually had to go to the library and read books, because there was no such thing as searching for information online. “High tech” was a desktop computer with a word processor and a flip phone that only made and received calls.
Flash-forward to today. Computers of every sort are an integral part of our lives. It seems there isn’t a single facet of our lives that isn’t affected in some way by a circuit board. Think of all the laptops, tablets, and smartphones many of us carry every day—devices we can’t seem to get by without. Then, consider how computers are practically running everything around us, from the bank ATMs and store registers to the traffic lights on the road. Even vehicles we drive are totally reliant on a computer (or two or three), just to make them go. Can we even function without them anymore?
I personally enjoy walking away from electronics whenever I can. There is nothing better than unplugging and just enjoying life. But it seems to be getting harder for people to just walk away from technology, even for a short time. Being connected is so ingrained in some people’s lives that they’re unable to function when technology isn’t there. Take away a GPS-enabled cell phone and simply making it around the block becomes nearly impossible. And, in extreme cases, being without a phone for an hour or more can cause a person to start having withdrawals over possibly missing text messages or Facebook posts.
Members of our society’s younger generation don’t know a world that isn’t electronic. It’s safe enough to confidently say a computer was present in their first moment of life, monitoring vital signs and such. Everything in young people’s lives revolves around things being done with or by a data processor. They are taught with one at school and expected to do homework on another, and that doesn’t include the time they spend gaming and messaging via computer every day.
The younger set easily understands how the high-tech processors work (much better than I do), and to them, using technology is second nature. With lifestyles that are centered on circuits, databases, programs, and apps, it is often very difficult to get kids to disconnect. My own children have a hard time doing things that don’t involve staring at some type of screen or stuff that happens spontaneously.
I know the microchip is the way of the future, but I don’t think we should forget that there is a beautiful, less sophisticated world out there to enjoy. Remember to shut them off once in awhile.
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