What inventions have had the biggest impact on your day-to-day life?

What inventions have had the biggest impact on your day-to-day life?

Butch

I can think of 4 main inventions that have impacted me; television, telephones, transport, and computers.

Television

We got our first television when I was about 7 I think (1955?). Maybe a little earlier. Prior to that we had gone to the neighbors, the McCoys, to watch shows in the cartoon hour of the late afternoon. The things I remember about our TV was, I think it was an Admiral brand and we kept it between the front entry and the front window. The window had full length curtains down to the floor. Sometimes I would climb up on the windowsill between the window and the curtain and survey the neighborhood. What I remember is while doing this once, I jumped down without pushing the curtain aside and bumped my cheekbone into the corner of the TV. It hurt like I couldn’t imagine.

Lisa, Duane Larson, and Bunny in front of the old Thorpe TV

After that we had many unmemorable TVs over the years. All black and white. When Karen and I were married we didn’t even have a TV for quite a while. Then we got a teeny 10” one. This despite my studying TV production at the University of Iowa. We did get a color TV shortly after that and never bought a B&W again. In 2021 we had worked our way up to a 65” 4K flat screen.

Telephones

I don’t know when my folks got their first phone. Probably long before I was born. My earliest memory of one is when we lived at 3117 Merle Hay Road in Des Moines. At the time our telephone number was only 5 digits long, 9-5353. Still pretty early there must have been a spurt in people getting phones and they needed to add a couple of extra digits to have enough phone numbers. They added the “Crestwood” prefix making our number CR9-5353. When we moved to Cedar Rapids they still had alphabetic prefixes. Ours was “Empire”. Eventually the phone companies dropped the alpha prefixes and made the whole phone number numeric. Ours was 364-7456. When Karen and I got married we got a phone of our own. Our number was 362-0761. We have had the number for the whole 52 years we have been married, except for 6 months when we moved out the country and had service with the South Slope Cooperative Telephone Company. I’m glad we were able to get our old number when we moved back into town.

In 2008 we got our first cell phones. They weren’t smart phones yet, but a big step down the road of technology. We did eventually get smart phones. We have had several different kinds over the years; an HTC, a Windows phone, but mostly we have had Samsung android phones. I am about ready to get a new one any day. Having to get a new one every two or three years is a good way to spend lots of money without getting much benefit out of the deal. But, you gotta do what you gotta do. I’ve got to say that these smart phones have probably had more technological impact on me than anything else, especially when you consider how closely they tie in with computers and the internet.

Our first cell phones

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Transport

Getting around by yourself when you are a kid is probably the best way to experience freedom. When I was still in elementary school I was given a 20” Schwinn bike. It was blue so naturally it was called the Little Blue Bike. I got really good at riding it. I could go all around the neighborhood while riding it “no handed”. I could turn corners, go up hills, go down hills, and apply the breaks till it got too slow to balance. I loved that bike.

 The little blue bike

At some point it got repainted white and then was known as the “Little White Bike”. I’m pretty sure that’s what my brother and sisters called it. Judy got a new 24” bike and I was so jealous because she now had a bigger bike than I did, but I got a bigger replacement myself in short order and all was right with the world again. It was a 24” Schwinn with big balloon tires and huge steer horn handle bars. After Junior High School I got one of the first 10-speed bikes in town. It was a Campi racing bike with 27” high pressure tires and full Campagnolo running gear. It was a light weight bike for its time, but still weighed a ton by today’s standards. I rode it to high school 3½ miles one way every day when the weather was good and even rode it to visit my Uncle Ralph in DeWitt, Iowa, one time on a field excursion with my friend Ron Sheriff. That was a 63 mile ride. While it was really cool, riding the racing bike was a bit of a trial. It was built for speed and not for riding comfort. The seat was made of leather and was only about 3 inches wide. Sweat soaked into the leather and caused it to distort and harden, making for a very uncomfortable ride. The tires had very small diameter tubes and had to be inflated to high pressures making them hard as rocks so you felt every nasty bump in the road. Well if you want to look really good, you have to put up with a few annoyances.

My next advance was to motorcycles. They had the same advantages as the bicycles but offered greater speed with less effort. I had seven different ones over the years, starting with a 305cc Honda Dream and ending with a non-vintage Triumph Bonneville. I rode that one till just a few years back. I gave it to my son, Lance, when I didn’t think I could trust my legs and feet to keep me upright at stops anymore.

I talked about my first car in the chapter When Did You Get Your First Car, but I had many cars over the years. Mostly they allowed me to have the freedom to get around as I wanted. There are many interesting things to say about this car or that but I will leave those for other stories.

Butch and his Triumph

Computers

Some of my friends had a chance to play around with computers when we were in high school, but I didn’t pay all that much attention to it. These were the days when Hollerith key punch cards were used to program computers. When I started working for the Department of Planning and Redevelopment at the City of Cedar Rapids my interest really took off. We were updating digital maps for use in the 1975 Special Census. As our department’s cartographer I came in contact with the director of the Data Processing Department, TJ Snarzyk, just about every day. He liked me and always took the time to explain to me about why something was done like this or something else was done like that. This was about the time that micro computers like the Radio Shack TRS 80 or the VIC 20 first started to appear. I was homing in on what I thought was a dandy little computer made by Texas Instruments. TJ advised me against it because he thought that Texas Instruments was about ready to go bankrupt. I don’t think they ever did.

I ended up buying a Radio Shack Color Computer. While only having 8 bit registers, this small home computer was almost the same as the early IBM PCs and only just below the Apple MacIntoshes. It was head and shoulders above the Apple IIs, its main rival. I graduated to full fledged IBM PCs after 3 or 4 Color Computers and learned the fundamentals of programming in Basic, Assembler, and C. At that time a person pretty much had to do their own programming, but there was enough software coming onto the market that you didn’t have to do that anymore, unless you wanted to be a programmer for a living. I didn’t want to go that far.

Radio Shack Color Computer

After I left the my job at the City I went into business with my own graphic design studio, Visible Results. Designers got heavily involved with all sorts of graphic software; desktop publishers, photo editors, and design programs. Most of them used Apple MacIntoshes because they had singled themselves out as needing to control this niche market. They did a pretty good job of it. But this field had been developing quickly and the IBMs were making big inroads into their domain. By the time I came to it, Windows, a Mac-like interface had been introduced on the PC and practically every program available on the Mac was also available on the PC. I reasoned that most of the companies buying outside graphic services were PC based and having PC graphics files was prone to fewer compatibility problems. I’m not sure that this did me all that much good, but it didn’t hurt me one bit either. I had a steady supply of loyal clients.

Of course the big thing to come along with computers was the internet. I will talk about all that in the chapter “What impact has the Internet had on your life”.

Karen

There are probably many inventions that are really important that I will leave out but the ones I will write about are truly a big deal. The inventions that have had the biggest impact on my day to day life are television, computers, smart phones.

Television was invented long before I was born but very few homes in my neighborhood had a television in the living room when I was very young. I suppose it was because they were expensive. Our family got a tv because my mom’s brother Everett was moving to California and getting rid of his sometime in the mid 1950’s. It was a big clunky console tv and from the start, it was clear that it was not to be turned on unless we had permission from our parents. For that reason, tv was what my parents liked to see which was westerns, sit coms, and quiz shows. I loved Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, and I’ve Got A Secret. I longed to learn how to read so that I could read the secret the contestants were trying to guess. We also religiously watched the evening news where Walter Cronkite told us about the important happenings in the world. I’ll never forget the compassion I learned from watching how black people were treated as they fought for human rights, the fear I had about the Cuban missile crisis, the grief of the assassination of our president, and the pride and wonder of a man on the moon. Now, for most of us, television is about entertainment and binge watching but still a big impact on my life during a world pandemic.

Linda with the Spicer TV

It took me a while to warm up to computers. I was not really a first adopter but email was my entry point. I knew computers could do mundane tasks fast, but email meant I could communicate with friends, family, and colleagues quickly and easily.  Word processing was also huge. A person could easily write and edit work and could save and organize files. A huge change from typewriters, white-out and file cabinets. The biggest impact was access to the internet. Information at our finger tips, commerce, entertainment, teaching and learning applications…it does it all. This information explosion has fundamentally changed the way the world works.

The third invention has given us the whole world to carry around in our pockets. When cell phones were invented they provided a nice convenience, but I also rather resented the notion that I was supposed to be available to everyone 24/7 wherever I was in the world. The big change came when the telephone feature became less important than the access to entertainment and information. Whenever we have a thought or a question, we can immediately look it up on our smart phone and get more information. More arguments about movies, song tiles, obscure facts etc. can be settled on the spot with little fanfare. My favorite feature however, is GPS. I have a terrible sense of direction and at the same time a terrible fear of of getting lost and being late. I love it that my phone will talk me through my route, turn by turn, and get me someplace on time and without stress!

GPS on the phone

Cast of Gunsmoke – James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon, Dennis Weaver as Chester Goode, Amanda Blake as Kitty Russell, Milburn Stone as Doc Adams

This post is part of the StoryWorth project that I am participating in.
At the ButchieBoy main page click the Storyworth category to see all the entries

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1 Response to What inventions have had the biggest impact on your day-to-day life?

  1. Daniel Chen says:

    It’s always fun, interesting and informative to read your stories. I enjoy a great deal. Excellent work!

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