Friday, April 29, 2011

A Blast from Our Tech Past

Randall Stephens

Is it true that one-third of the world's population will have watched the royal wedding? Wow. . . (And you thought you could get a break from hearing about THE event of 2011. Nope.)

In the scope of modern history, live broadcasts and
recording technology are such recent developments.

This video from YouTube is an example of primitive video tech. President Eisenhower's 1958 address deals with communication and the challenges of the future. Ironic that he seems to be having such trouble getting just the right words out! (It might count as one of the worst presidential speeches of modern history.) The script takes a decidedly World's Fair tone--the progress rhetoric that will inform amusement parks like Epcot. The World of Tomorrow!!

According to a little history of TV site that the FCC has put together:

In 1956 the Ampex quadruplex videotape replaced the kinescope; making it possible for television programs to be produced anywhere, as well as greatly improving the visual quality on home sets. This physical technology led to a change in organizational technology by allowing high-quality television production to happen away from the New York studios. Ultimately, this led much of the television industry to move to the artistic and technical center of Hollywood with news and business operations remaining on the East Coast.

In 1957 the 1st practical remote control, invented by Robert Adler and called the "Space Commander," was introduced by Zenith. This wireless, ultrasound remote followed and improved upon wired remotes and systems that didn't work well if sunlight shone between the remote and the television.

This "Golden Age" of television also saw the establishment of several significant technological standards. These included the National Television Standards Committee (NTSC) standards for black and white (1941) and color television (1953). In 1952 the FCC made a key decision, via what is known as the Sixth Report and Order, to permit UHF broadcasting for the 1st time on 70 new channels (14 to 83). This was an essential decision because the Nation was already running out of channels on VHF (channels 2-13). That decision gave 95% of the U.S. television markets three VHF channels each, establishing a pattern that generally continues today.

Thus the "Golden Age" was a period of intense growth and expansion, introducing many of the television accessories and methods of distribution that we take for granted today. But the revolution – technological and cultural – that television was to introduce to America and the world was just beginning.

To see how this techsplosion would later impact modern families, watch the charming little BBC series Electric Dreams (2009), now airing on PBS. Gotta get back in time, minus the DeLorean: "The Sullivan-Barnes family from Reading are a thoroughly modern family who own the latest in 21st century gadgetry. In a unique experiment they were stripped of all their modern tech and their own home was taken back in time so that they could live with the technology of earlier decades. The family lived a year per day starting in 1970 right up to the year 2000."


hcr said...

Randall: Thanks so much for a post that references the royal wedding to make a larger point. The media has not exactly distinguished itself with its innovative coverage, has it?

And on the technology front, I'm worrying these days about how technological changes make legislation play out in ways no one foresees. Also worrying about how access to information changes politics. So this is a great post to prod me back to the new manuscript.

And, of course, gotta like seeing clips (even bumbling ones) of my pal Eisenhower.

Unknown said...

I had to look up kinescope -- and I found that one of the earliest surviving kinescope recordings was the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip. Just can't get away from those royals!