Most readers know that I tend to look at my family history from some very different angles - sometimes bordering on the controversial or bizarre. One angle I've been pondering has to do with technology.
The other day I thought about my great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, and tried to count all the different technological advances that appeared during her life. It was impossible to get an accurate number. But then I refined it down to technology that directly affected her life and items that she would have been introduced to and tried to learn.
I am admittedly a technogeek - it is what I do for a living as an applications analyst for a global law firm. I've been working with computers since the first IBM PC appeared in 1981. I have been a document processor, a software trainer, a technical writer, a programmer and developer, and now a project manager. Ask me a question about Microsoft Word 2003 or 2007 and I can probably recite the menu structure without looking. Sad isn't it?
Here is a brief list that I came up with in terms of inventions and how they probably affected by great-grandmother:
- Electricity - while it wasn't "invented" per se, Grandma would have seen an increase in the use of electric lighting, transportation, and home appliances. I know that she still had an ice box growing up - that was the means of refrigeration. And much of her lighting was still by kerosene oil lamp. In fact, the Grahamsville farm house which they bought in the late 1940s didn't have electricity until the early 1950s.
- Telephone - early telephones were not cheap (are they really cheap now? Don't get me started). I also remember Grandma talking about the first phone at the Grahamsville house - it was an 8 party line! It was the only type of phone service available and I remember it growing up - Grandma didn't replace it until the early 1970s. She always complained about one woman who did nothing but yack on the phone all day and tied it up for the other 7 homes.
Through the years Grandma had to learn how to use a telephone and the method of calling someone was rudimentary compared to today's multiple area codes and overlays. In small towns you picked up the phone, clicked the receiver a few times and told Cora that you wanted to speak to Mrs. Hutchinson. Later you had to remember a number like 132 or something. Then there were 4 digit numbers and 3 digit exchanges. Remember when the exchange was partially based on a location? The ones I remember most are MUrray Hill 7 (New York City) and BUtterfield 8 (from the movie).
Most people also think of a female operator with a headset and an enormous board filled with lights and cords. Well this is one male who had that job during summers in high school and college. I worked on the last "cordboard" in all of New York State for Ma Bell. Long time ago - when the earth was still warm.
- Plumbing - growing up Grandma did not have indoor plumbing even in New York City. And the Grahamsville house didn't have it installed until the 1950s. I remember my mother talking about the 2 seater outhouse and having to go in the middle of the night and worry about snakes.
These are just some of the basic technologies that we take for granted today. There are so many more that vastly improved daily life: penicillin and antibiotics, the automobile, television, ATMs, computers.
Looking back even at your own life and the technological changes is a great way of feeling old. I remember when there were no ATMs - you had to go to the bank which closed at 3pm - and 12pm on Wednesdays - and wait in line for a teller. I remember vinyl - not clothing - but LP and 45 records. I remember when there was no TIVO and no VCRs - you rushed home to catch a television show.
Some may argue that television hasn't really improved our lives. All I know is that the technology itself is innocent - the good or bad that comes of it is determined by how we put it to use.
Think about technology and your family tree. Are they any inventors in your family's past? Do you remember parents or grandparents hanging on to some outdated technologies - due to fear of the new or just because they thought they worked better? What changes in technology have you seen in your own life?