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Modern Gadgets

Entry 1046, on 2009-07-04 at 22:37:53 (Rating 1, Comments)

I recently read an article about the experience of a 13 year old who swapped his iPod for a Sony Walkman for a week. This coincided with the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Walkman in 1979. If you don't remember (or are too young to even know) the Walkman was a portable cassette player. A cassette was a compact tape which typically stored about an hour of fairly poor quality music. I can't believe I'm explaining this but many people might never have seen one!

Of course the 13 year old kid had a lot of trouble getting used to the deficiencies of tape (for example it took a while before he realised you had to turn it over to get the second half of the music) and this started me thinking about the technology changes I had experienced in the last 30 years (or maybe even more).

Music playing technology has improved a lot. I originally had a high quality record system and I took a while to switch to CDs (partly because the first CDs weren't actually very well produced) but now I mostly listen to music from my computer, iPhone and hard disk based media center. MP3 music is lower quality than the uncompressed audio on CDs so that is a partly backward step but the convenience and flexibility of modern digital devices is great.

Other advantages of digital music are that it never wears out (it was depressing to know that every time I played a record it deteriorated a bit) and is easy to copy (for backup purposes only, of course). Being able to store large amounts in a small space, choose any track instantly, make playlists, and enhance the sound digitally, are also great convenience features.

So apart from the tiny percentage of people who are convinced that analog is the only true music source things have improved greatly in the area of music.

A similar thing applies to video. Many people are quite happy with standard definition analog TV but at the very least the freedom from signal noise and the big screens available on modern video equipment impresses most people. I still can't understand why so many people can't tell the difference between standard analog and high definition digital TV. My plasma recently had to be sent away to be repaired and I had to go back to using an old analog CRT. Going back to the old technology was pretty depressing!

Another area of huge progress has been photography. Sure a skilled photographer could get superb results with conventional film but modern digital cameras are more consistent, easier to use, and a lot cheaper to operate. My expensive film camera is sitting in a cupboard and I get great results from my digital SLR now. It took a few years before the initial problems of digital (not enough pixels, slow response, poor battery life, low light noise, low storage capacity) were resolved but I think they have all been thoroughly fixed now.

I barely need to even mention the progress computer technology has made in 30 years but lets do a comparison of my first computer against my current one. I now have 10 million times as much disk storage, 100,000 times as much memory, and probably about 100,000 times as much pure CPU performance (and don't even get started about the speed of graphics cards!). That's incredible progress in such a short time, I think.

All of these things are great but the really big thing is how they all fit together. Every photo I take is enhanced in Photoshop and stored on my computers (enhancing conventional film in the darkroom was never this easy). I can fit hundreds of movies on a hard disk and recording to hard disk is so much better than the old VHS tapes! My computer is a high quality photo viewer, music player, TV, movie recorder, and media storage system.

Yes, modern gadgets are great, and I haven't even talked about the stuff that never even existed 30 years ago like GPS! I wonder what we'll have in another 30 years time. I guess I'll do a 3D holographic, thought transference, interplanetary blog entry on that when it happens!


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