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An ever-changing world

Published September 18. 2010 09:00AM

I was talking with some friends last week and we were discussing the differences in generations. Our ages were five to 10 years apart and I realized how much life has evolved in just the past 30 years. A few years ago I wrote a column about all the changes my great grandmother witnessed in 90 years of life on this planet, but as time has continued to move forward, the changes continue at what seems to be a continually accelerating pace and not all of them for the good.

When I was a youngster I remembered that while some cars had air conditioning it was far from standard in cars and even rarer in people's homes. The highlight of the summer was usually a trip to my aunt and uncle's house in Maryland where they had central air and the house was always so cool all the time. I used to marvel at how neat it was to have the same air conditioning in your house usually reserved for the local department store.

Speaking of local department stores, I remember when they were just that local. I remember when Lansford's downtown was full of stores and right in the center of it was Bright's Department Store, a three story store that seemed to have everything which one could possibly want. I was a little older when they moved to Lehighton but we still considered the store "local". Of course, time took its toll on this local landmark and it is no more. Gone as well are most of the stores in Lansford's once prized downtown, lost most likely to the ease of today's travel as well as the proliferation of large stores.

Weekends were set aside for visiting relatives and time just seemed to be slower all of those years ago. Today there is so much happening on weekends that it seems like most of the time there is barely enough time and space to catch one's breath. I remember a Sunday drive with my grandparents being the highlight of the weekend.

The most important advance took place toward the end of childhood while I was a teenager. It was the advent of the personal computer. Even after seeing the first personal computers I never realized how much it would change our lives. Computers have turbocharged how business is conducted, how we relate to each other and how we live our lives. I remember seeing speculative ideas of how computer s would sit in the home in every room from the living room to the kitchen and help us with daily chores. Now less than thirty years later, this imagined future is reality.

One of my favorite syndicated television programs was "Star Trek". They used to show three episodes on late night Saturdays and I watched every single one multiple times. It was incredible to a teen like me the kinds of things that were "real" on board the starship "Enterprise". I thought it was amazing how they were able to speak with their communicators and diagnose injured red shirts with the "tricorder device".

Thirty years later both devices now exist in the real world. The tricorder is similar to an ultrasound wand and I just read in a technology journal about a prototype unit that is hand-held bearing a strong resemblance to the tricorder. The communicator has been created by the inventors of the cell phone. What started out as a simple unit for making phone calls has blossomed today into what is essentially a hand-held computer. My current phone, an Android, has more power in it than my first four computers combined. Not only can it make calls, it can map my destinations, tell me the best restaurants, translate speech and text into several languages and call people at my commend. This phone is in many ways more advanced than the best communicator in any Star Trek episode. I would imagine if a spaceship existed there would be an application to communicate with it.

The fast pace technology has created though is also its pitfall. The world is moving at hyper-speed now. We are deluged with information and we expect everything to happen in a few seconds. It used to take a minute or two for many computer applications to begin running, now if they aren't open in seconds we are annoyed. Cutting edge today is passé tomorrow. By the time an electronic device makes it to market it is obsolete.

What's worse is all of this speed creates inordinate amounts of stress on us. We sometimes seem to be a slave to the machine instead of its master. We have all heard and it's been the plot of several sitcoms about how a computer error can destroy someone's credit, damage their identity or in extreme cases "kill" them. Not literally, but electronically. There have been cases where a person was misidentified in a system as dead and it becomes a nightmare to fix what seems to be a simple problem.

One has to wonder what my daughter's world will be like someday. I just hope it is moving slow enough that I will still be able to see it when I'm old and gray.

Til next time …

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