What’s the difference ? Two recessions.


Dick Oberholtzer and his wife listening to radio signals from Sputnik I.

I remember when Sputnik went up. It was so exiting listening to for the Beep Beep signals on an old crummy shortwave receiver.  It was like having a new toy to play with.  And getting that first one transistor radio kit for my birthday.

Going with my father to the local TV and Radio store and seeing color television for the first time.  You had to watch it in a darkened room because the picture was pretty dim. And the color was not too good either. Faces were kind of orange and the grass had this look of a poorly done painting about it. But it was color and neat to watch. The sets were very expensive and had one size picture tube. My grandfather got one and I remember that it was hard to see except in the evening. But that is when my grandparents and my parents would watch. My father was red green color blind so not very impressed with it. But people wanted one because it was color.

I also remember the first space flights and we even would listen to them in school. This was real history happening and the whole school would be listening to the events over the school PA system.  I remember my father getting a transistor radio. I wound up with it. It was small and had a tiny speaker and did not sound very good. But it had transistors and everybody wanted one.

That whole period from after WWII through the late 1970s it seemed like one new thing after another.  Television, satellites, color television, men in space then going to the moon, transistors and then integrated circuits. Rockets and jet aircraft. Solid state audio. Companies like SAE and Phase Linear and Dynaco all had big high power amplifiers. Remember Southwest Technical  Products ?  With their Tiger amplifier kits and later 6800 microcomputer kits and keyboard and terminal kits. MITS and IMSI microcomputers.

Boom boxes started to show up in the 1970s. They were big and loud and had much better sound than the transistor radios of the past. But they weighed a ton because of all the D cell batteries needed to get all that sound.

Shortwave radio listening got big as well with the new solid state shortwave receivers. Some even having a digital display to show you exactly what frequency you were tuned too.  And nearly every shortwave broadcaster had a program dedicated to this particular interest.

By the time the 1980s came interest int all these things began to fade.  Microcomputers were still mostly the province of the geeks and hobbyists.   IBM and Apple had yet to have their PCs and computer graphics were still only something that was done on big, expensive mainframe type machines that were in Universities and Research institutions.  Sales sagged. Where I lived we had 4 Stereo stores and by the time the 1980s came we had one. And this was way before Circuit City and Best Buy.  Not including the Stereo stores in the malls.  By the mid 80s these were gone as well.   The local computer hobbyist stores were fading too.

But by the late 1980s the Personal Computer started to emerge as something the average person could afford and actually use. IBM and Apple followed by Radio Shack and Commodore  started coming out with all in one units or complete systems. They could run applications other than Basic and soon had color displays as well.  By the 1990s dial up communications to networks had been established. Also cellular communications started to become popular as well. Based on the technologies used by  Ham Radio operators and Public Safety using repeaters and phone patching techniques as well as diversity communications. The first cell phones were big and bulky and weight considerably. Not something one could put to ones ear.  Sales of all this stuff soared.  Lap top computers began to show up. The Zenith laptop was one of the first.

Digital recording took off as well. Using the same technology as CDs did. With audio cards beginning to show up with professional quality but inexpensive enough for anyone to get. And everyone but everyone was putting together a home recording studio. All imagining themselves as another Allen Parsons.  But as time went on even interest in this faded as people got hit with the reality that electronic goodies does not a musician make.  You actually have to have some talent and ability.  MP3 players began to take the place of cassette players and cell phones became common place.  Computer networking came into it’s own with cable connections and DSL and now even fiber in some places.  Computers became faster and smaller and easier to use. The software more robust and user friendly.

As PCs took hold in the home they too took over from the big mainframe computers. Universities and research institutions began to dump their big iron.  Networked servers and the World Wide Web took the stage.  Technology went from being neat and new and exciting to something that was taken for granted, like a washing machine or a toaster.  Satellite and cable TV along with DVD and now down loadable movies and audio taking the place of movie theaters and CDs and what not.

And what it the point of all this ? For one thing when economists and historians speak of how our and the worlds economy is technology driven the leave out one important facet.  The psychological part of it. All these things were, for a while in the beginning, neat and new and exciting.  They also leave out the fact that as the technology advanced, the fewer and fewer people are needed to implement it and make it available to the masses.

Its what I call the adrenaline factor.  Each new thing that I mentioned was emotionally invigorating. Exciting and fun. People wanted this stuff.

But now were are at a period where the current new things are not so exciting and new and interesting. That is not to say the current research in photovoltaics or electric transportation is not  important. Or the medical discoveries not inspiring. It’s just that they do not invoke the same kind of excitement that the discoveries of the past do.

So as to the difference between the last economic down turn, the one in the early 1980s and now is that there is little that is exhilarating in the immediate future for most people.  In the 1980s and the others that preceded, people believed that things would get better, that there was something new and inspiring and appealing on the horizon.  This is not so much true today. We have hit a plateau.

Add to that  a general unease about the world in general and now a certain cynicism about technology in itself and whether it can fix out problems.  We as a country have a long history of exiting new vistas. From the very first people to set foot on it.  We can claim a lot of firsts.   But we have nearly run out of firsts and even seconds. We are having a very difficult time now adjusting to not having the national emotional stimuli we had in the past.

We do not know how to just be.

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