Que Pasa by Ed Barker
The Twentieth Century was the most inventive century in recorded history. The age of technology wrought inventions that rapidly changed our world and made it infinitely smaller and, unfortunately, infinitely more complicated.
Until the early 1900’s, inventions plodded along, comparatively, at a snail’s pace. Nothing much happened for many, many centuries after the invention of the wheel. Frankly, there are places in the world where technology still plods along. In fact, even today, the only reason some countries have the wheel is because they import it.
And do the marvels of the 20th Century make you wonder what the 21st Century will bring? And isn’t it amazing how fast new inventions become necessities?
The computer was something I thought I could do without before I had one. My wife brought the first one home in about 1986. I ignored it for several years, but it turned out to be like the microwave oven. Now, I wonder how I ever got by without it.
It’s true isn’t it? One day a thing is a luxury; the next it has become a necessity. Or so we think, anyway.
Take refrigerators. Refrigerators for home use were around before my family had one. Until I was about age 5, we cooled our food in an icebox. I clearly remember the icebox, ice pick and the iceman.
An icebox was what the name implies; it was a wood and metal cabinet in which a block of ice was placed on a tray, after having been expertly cut to size with an ice pick. By the time I started elementary school, the refrigerator meant the iceman no longer cometh.
The ice pick lingers as a decorative bar tool, but is no longer common enough to be used as a murder weapon.
The washer and dryer are great inventions. I remember my grandmother using a Maytag wringer-type washer on the back porch, complete with wash tubs. The only place you see wash tubs anymore is at picnics. They’re filled with ice made in a refrigerator.
Speaking of new developments, a few years ago Robin and I returned from a vacation to find that both our washer and dryer no longer worked. During the process of buying new ones, I discovered the importance of colored appliances.
The first air conditioner I remember was in a barbershop. It was so unusual, there was a card in the window advertising a brand of cigarettes that said, “It’s Kool in here.” Most public places depended on large overhead fans to push the hot air around. But it seems much hotter now than when I was a kid. Today, when the power goes off during a monsoon, panic begins to set in as the room temperature climbs above 85 degrees.
I went to college in Nebraska where the wind blows at 70 mph as the temperature drops to 40 below. Still, the electricity worked. Those guys at Rural Electric must know something that the guys at SRP don’t.
I saw my first television at my grandmother’s house the year I started elementary school. Her favorite show was wrestling and she swore it was real.
People lined up in front of department store windows in the early 1950’s to stare at the new invention. We got one when I was about 10 years old. My sister and I were so fascinated that we would actually watch the test pattern.
Today, most families have a television in the living room, one in every bedroom, plus a battery-powered one in case the electricity goes off. And some people still think wrestling is real.
Until 1997, the year I got my first pager, the answering machine was my only concession to advanced communications. Now I feel naked if I don’t have my cell phone.
In fact, without a cell phone, it has become difficult to stay connected. In case you haven’t noticed, pay phones are going the way of iceboxes, and fully charged cell phones can be bought across the counter in drugstores and supermarkets without a lot of red tape and then thrown away.
It’s safe to say they are here to stay, at least until something more efficient comes along. And you never know when it will happen or what it will be.
Remember transistor radios? They were about the size of a wallet and fit comfortably in your shirt pocket. You could plug in an ear phone and listen without disrupting the whole class. My cousin used one to listen to the 1959 World Series. The teachers left him alone, because they thought it was a hearing aid.
Another invention my wife thinks I need.