I studied electronics at The Electronics Institute in Kansas City. That was a long time ago. We studied vacuum tubes. Vacuum tube radios and television and radar systems. It was the dawn of the transistor – we talked about transistors in class, and experimented with diodes in building full-wave bridge power supplies. Resonant circuits were managed with the cumbersome physical attributes of manually manipulated coils and capacitors. The socially turbulent 1960’s caused me to look at the interaction of technology and society. I looked to the future. I saw hope. I saw resonance of humanity.
That was a long time ago. The Shaw ran Iran, Mao held the reins in China, and Brezhnev had taken charge of the Soviet Union. Apartheid ruled South Africa. War raged in Southeast Asia. Presidential candidates proudly postured themselves as segregationists. So much dissent. It felt to me like all people wanted the same things – but they failed at communicating and understanding one another. I remember thinking that technology would change all of that.
My vision in the 1960’s was one of global electronic communications. I thought that if people of different cultures could only talk with each other they would see that they were really not so different. Common ground could be reached. The common good would prevail.
Well, it seems that overcoming human fears, prejudice, and closed-mindedness is a little more complicated. The bigots of humanity have used technology to further segregate cultural ideas. My hope was that technology would give voice to understanding and reason – but that is not yet the case. Technology has allowed the proliferation of focused and contradictory ideologies. I hear terms like the liberal media, or conservative talk radio, or the Christian Network and I feel both hopeful and fearful.
My youthful hope was of technology opening the arena of common dialogue toward a common humanity. People are much too sophisticated to allow such simplicity. Don’t like what you hear – start your own TV or Radio Station. Give voice to Rush Limbaugh and Shawn Hannity and Pat Robertson. Al Jazeera broadcasts for Osama Bin Laden. Our President refuses to talk with anyone who does not agree with him – he would rather threaten them with the dead bodies of our young. He thinks that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a foreign policy initiative. This was not exactly my youthful vision.
But I remain hopeful. There is an old saying, “The secret is visibility without exposure.” I think that concept applies. Pat Robertson has exposed himself for the buffoon that he is. Al Jazeera exposes the insanity of practicing Dark Ages moral values. Technology is allowing humanity to see the flaws of shallow self-serving ideologies.
Assimilating cultures is going to take a little longer than my youthful dreams had imagined.
Yogi Berra said, “The future ain’t what is used to be.”
Some other funny quotes about predicting the future:
- It will be gone by June. Variety, passing judgement on rock ‘n roll in 1955.
- Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of nature, its own negation. Karl Marx.
- It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere. Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1895.
- I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year. The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.
- While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming. Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926.
- The phonograph has no commercial value at all. Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1880s.
- Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever. Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889 (Edison often ridiculed the arguments of competitor George Westinghouse for AC power).