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Technology time-line

Do you remember what it was like to live before the internet, or mobile phones, or compact discs, or walkmen?

I've been trying to bolt together a time-line of how old I was when I first owned various technologies — not when I first saw them, but when they first entered my life in a meaningful way. These are all emblematic technologies that changed the way I lived — that's why I'm not listing my first CD player (1986) or video recorder (1987) separately. (The CD player was a sideways format-shift from vinyl, but not life-changing; the VCR wasn't life-changing because, er, I don't watch TV or movies much.) Some of them are obsolescent, replaced by newer inventions: but I find it interesting to look back and wonder what my life would be like without them or, conversely, how different things would have been if they'd come along earlier or later in my life. There was nothing inevitable about me getting a typewriter at the age of 13. On the other hand, I'm startled that mobile phones arrived so late in the day ...

1. Wrist watch: age 9. A cheap wind-up Sekonda. I was about 14 before I first got a digital watch (they only showed up in the mid-1970s). These days I don't bother with one.

2. Record player: age 10. I inherited the family's old 1950s portable record player by default why my father bought a new stereo, around 1974 or 1975. Not only did it play 33s and 45s; it could play 78s and low-speed 16rpm disks too. That was my first personal musical appliance.

3. Cassette recorder: age 11, a Hitachi mono cassette recorder. A cast-off from my elder brother, it had exotic features such as a pause button and a counter. I used to make my own mix tapes (not that the term existed then), holding its microphone up to the record player's speaker.

4. Typewriter: aged 13. It was an Imperial Aristocrat (a reporter's portable manual typewriter), and it changed my life.

5. Stereo radio-cassette recorder: aged 16 I got my first ghetto blaster, a Grundig, and learned what stereo sound was like. (When you're music-mad and socially isolated — as I think I was back then — it's a life-changing thing to get your first stereo. Cassette taping of LPs was a significant way of expanding your horizons.)

6. Computer: aged 18, I bought a Sinclair ZX-81. It was not terribly useful — in fact, I became disillusioned with it rapidly and traded it for a Casio FX-702P, a BASIC-programmable calculator. So I missed out on the 1981-85 golden age of home computing. If I'd waited three months I might have bought a Spectrum instead, and things would have been very different ...

7. Cassette Walkman: aged 19, I bought an early Sanyo model in my first year at university. I'd first seen one a couple of years earlier, around 1979, but they were an exotic alien technology that didn't find its way into the white goods stores of Leeds until 1982 or thereabouts.

8. Colour TV: age 21. I didn't grow up with colour TV, but ended up buying a second-hand Sony during my final year at university. Suddenly snooker made sense!

9: Real computer: age 21. In my final year at university, I bought an Amstrad PCW8256 (eventually upgraded to dual floppy/512Kb RAM/10Mb hard disk, running CP/M). This changed my life as much as that typewriter — and it was on this machine that I wrote the first stories I managed to sell.

10. Laptop: age 26 (1990), a Zenith MiniSport with 2" (yes, 2", not 3.5") micro-floppy drive. 8086 processor, 2Mb of RAM, weighed 2.5Kg. It didn't do much, but it did it on battery power and away from a desk, and I've been addicted to laptops ever since. (I'm typing this on a Macbook ...)

11. Modem: aged 28 I acquired a US Robotics modem that could do of 2400 baud bidirectionally. This was 1992, and I used it for a while to email to and from the internet at home. (I'd been on the net since late 1989, give or take a nine month period without access in late 1990-early 1991, but this was my first home connection.)

12. First PDA: age 29, I bought a Psion Series 3a. Pocket computing led to reading ebooks by 1998, and then ...

13. Mobile Phone: I was 31 when I got my first mobile phone, an early Nokia GSM model (about the size of a half-brick, with an extending aerial, it provided voice and SMS service only). I carried it for a while on business. After the business went, it was another 18 months before I bought a mobile phone of my own.

14. MP3 player: aged 38, I bought an Archos Jukebox Recorder 20. It was hideously ugly design and the line-out tended to hiss, but it was far more hackable than an iPod — you could record on it, install new firmware (Rockbox was originally written for the Archos machines), upgrade the hard disk, and swap the batteries (it took four AA-sized NiMH rechargables). It was eventually replaced by a succession of ipods. Really, MP3 players had existed since I was in my early 30s — I wasn't an early adopter here.

15. eBook reader: aged 42, I bought a Sony PRS-505. Despite the long habit reading ebooks on PDAs, I found my aging eyes were beginning to disagree with tiny backlit LCDs; the e-ink digital paper technology is easier to read, especially in daylight.

16. Brand new car: never. I've never owned one, and probably never will.

Question: What item of technology changed your life, and when did you first meet it?



Upon reflection, it's hard to pick just one item of technology - growing up in the US in what could be considered as a fairly modern society in the late 20th century, there were examples of technology around me throughout my life.

However, I suppose when I bought my first PC on my own as an adult, when I got to pick out each component and struggle through my newbie assembly mistakes that I really started to be interested in what was in my PC and how that affected what I could do with it. So I experimented with lots of different programs, and eventually different operating systems.

I guess that learning this has been worthwhile, but yet kind of a distraction in that if one gets too distracted by hardware then one may not actually use it for all that it offers - (ie, it seems like some people can get more excited about overclocking their system than actually using it to play games, or write stories, or really create something with all the power that they have accessible to them).


I'd have to say the computer is probably the one thing that changed my life. I think the first one I ever played with was when I was 8 or so. It was an old thing that ran on DOS or some sort of ancient system, and it's screen was a weird green color. My memory tells me it could show orange too, but I think I'm just confusing it with the technology of today, which is capable of showing a huge range of colors. But, the computer certainly changed my life more so than any other piece of technology I had the opportunity to encounter (save the modem/Internet, which I consider to be an extension of the computer, but so be it).


I have a very weird timeline. My first computer was a Data General Nova 1200 with an attached ASR-33 Teletype, and I first made its acquaintance at ten years of age.

I suspect that handing a ten-year-old the bootstrap loader quick reference card for a Nova 1200 and teaching him how to enter them the program from the front panel switches should have been regarded as an act of child abuse in 1975, but the criminal sciences were woefully behind the times in those days.


Wow what a great list, it has made me stop and think when these sorts of things came into my life and just how much I now take them for granted.

  • Wrist watch: age 8. A cheap wind-up, don't recall the brand. My father's father had many wristwatches and pocket watches accumulated as presents to him (he only wanted watches, neckties, golf equipment, or cash), complained about his first self-winding watch: "I put it in my drawer to let it rest, and now it isn't running." These days I don't bother with one -- Satellite TV or internet does it just as fast.. Out of habit, I wear the fine Seiko quartz my Dad says he found on New York City sidewalk.

  • Record player: age 9. Family's old 1940s record player played 33s and 45s and 78s and 16rpm disks. Got a portable r3ecord player when I went off at 16 to Caltech. On one move, forgot to lock down the turntable. Never the same after rough handling. Now have system integrated with CDs and radio cheap from Sears, which FM tuning degrades spontaneously on hot days. Bought iPod for my wife; our son loads it for her with mostly audiobooks.

  • Cassette recorder: age 11, mono cassette recorder. Had precious recordings of my mother, grandmother, great grandmother accidentally recorded over by my deaf brother who couldn't hear what he was doing. No audio now exists of my matrilinear side.

  • Typewriter: aged 13. Portable, from my grandmother. All my Junior High and High school papers now typed. Took to college. My first self-published poetry book done on it. But switched to the IBM 7090/7094 on campus 1968 as primary writing instrument and never looked back. The manual typewriter and the word processing on computers changed my life.

  • Stereo radio-cassette recorder: never had one.

  • Computer: aged 15 became obsessive user of an IBM 1130 at my high school (which was also the first high school to have built a working cyclotron). Came in 8K and 16K models. Most users asked: "16K? Who could ever use 16k?" At home, then in New Jersey while girlfriend worked at Bell Labs, used pre-released Unix on her terminal. Ted Nelson lent me Cromemco, Processor Technology Sol-20, IMSAI, on which I co-implemented Hypertext and stick-figure animation hypemedia with Mark Miller, demo's at world's first Personal Computer conference, Philadelphia 1976. First I bought was Apple II. Home computers changed my life, as Ted nelson and John Mauchley promised me.

  • Cassette Walkman: never had

  • Color TV: age 40. Never owned a TV before. Hated them, except if something special was on, then watch at a friend's house. This baffled visiting children. They could not believe I had no TV. They assumed I was lying, and hiding one, and looked in closets. The Wizard of Oz finally made complete sense. Wastes my life.

  • 9: Real computer: age 21, see #6 above.

  • Laptop: never had.

  • Modem: aged 21, 300 baud acoustically coupled.

  • First PDA: never had..

  • Mobile Phone:never had. Why bother? Wife has, teenaged son had, don't want to be annoyed while driving.

  • MP3 player: never had. See #2 above.

  • eBook reader: never had.

  • Brand new car: never. I've never owned one, and will not until back to high-pay job (as I'd left when I left the aerospace and internet industries), which is some time away as I've opted to be secondary school teacher in urban under-served communities. Most liked the used classic 1967 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, largest stock car that company ever made, which gets miles per gallon that would enrage Al Gore. Wife and son have Camry (wife's was new), and I have barely legal bashed up Chevy Cavalier (did they ever make a Roundhead?)

  • 6:

    Hey charlie how do you like the Sony PRS-505? I have been thinking about getting one but held off when I saw the new Kindle.


    Getting a 300 baud modem back in 1984, making it possible for an overly bright barely-teenage misfit to interact with people on bulletin boards and USENET where the only thing that mattered was how well you could write.

    TiVo. 1998 or 1999, I think. Lowered the inconvenience of watching television to the point that I could bother with more than three hours a week.



    My father was a CW and radio fanatic, a technology enthusiast, and a semi-pro photographer. So in the 70's was normal for me to see the photos the same day my father shoot them, we had colour TV before our country (Italy) started colour broadcast.

    I learned EDP concepts at age of 12 (1979) on an english book from NCR, a gift of my father. When I put my hands on a ZX80 I already knew the principle of BASIC. In 1983 I got a CP/M computer and I sold my first program in 1985 while I was attending high school.

    In 1986 I bought my first modem, started connecting with FidoNet nodes, made a lot of friends and exchanged a lot of informations.

    The computer age definitely changed and shaped my life.


    Oh yeah... my first typewriter was also a hugely weird thing: a Novar "word processor" appliance, a device so arcane that searching for it with Mr. Google only calls up patent filings from 1972. It was basically a Selectric with a magnetic tape drive attached to it that would store and retrieve keystroke sequences. It also had an automated white-out feature that would erase text for you, making it possible to backspace and insert/delete text... on paper. It was a thing of pure evil.

    I had one of these Damned Things in my home at the age of seven. This naturally scarred my ability to learn to type like a normal person.


    Calculator: (age 12) I've got rather severe and selective learning disabilities. Algebra, Calculus, Topology and Group Theory come easy, but arithmetic is well nigh impossible for me as a practical matter. As a result a calculator is what probably is responsible for my career in tech (that and spellchecking word processors)

    Hologram and Laser: (age 14) Visiting a holography exhibition, I discovered that you could take classes in Holography. I rapidly became immersed in the tribe of holography and have never left it. It accounts for my PhD in physics and most of my jobs (involving holographers but often not holography)

    PC: (age 18) A ZX-81 followed by a VIC-20 followed by a C64 and then a Tandy 1000. Crucial to my development as a computer geek.

    PDA: (age ~34) Handspring, learned the power of having an omnipresent computer.


    For me it was one thing:


    From I've been digital ever since. Can't wait for the Fembots!


    cod3fr3ak @6: the Sony Reader is okay -- does what it says on the tin, doesn't weigh much, runs forever off batteries, is sufficiently open to be useful (unusually, for a piece of kit from Sony). I ignore the Sony walled garden store for DRM'd ebooks (and Adobe Digital Editions) because they require windows; instead I use Calibre for getting stuff on and of it (and if I need a commercial ebook that's only available with DRM, I buy it in Mobipocket format from Fictionwise, crack the DRM, and format-shift it onto the Sony).

    I don't/can't use a Kindle -- it relies on EV-DO for networking, which is only available in the USA (nobody else on the planet uses it).

    NB: I skipped the hifi separates mix'n'match phase I went through, aged 16-23, because it wasn't life-changing in the way that first getting a stereo radio/cassette recorder was, but I should note that it was there before I got into tinkering with computers.


    "Suddenly, snooker made sense!"

    Took me a moment to figure out what you meant there. Good one.


    1977: My first computer, a TRS-80. I was eight years old (and insanely lucky to have one). I still remember learning my first bit of BASIC from the packaged manual.

    1985: My first modem. This connected me to the world of local BBSes (no Internet, yet) and, more importantly, to an entire geek culture that I didn't know existed. I went from being a lonely kid to achieving a level of popularity that was simply unbelievable.

    1990: My first cell phone. It was actually more of a nuisance than a benefit, back then, given the ridiculous size and how often you needed to charge it, but I got a taste of how liberating it was not to have to find a pay phone when I wanted to make a call.

    1993: My first internet account, which means my first real e-mail account (i.e., not an internal company account or a single BBS account) as well as my first exposure to USENET. Once again, my world expanded exponentially.

    1994: My first exposure to the Web. I wasn't really impressed with what I initially saw ("Why not just use Gopher?"), but I quickly began to appreciate its potential once I saw an early version of

    2009: My first smart phone. I'm a late adopter (I just got it last week, in fact). I've owned PDAs before and wasn't expecting to be impressed, but I see that I really hadn't appreciated how much the technology has advanced nor how thoroughly useful these things are.

    For me, each of these things represented a moment where I felt like I was actually living in the future. It's hard to get that feeling because change usually creeps up on you so gradually that you don't really notice it arriving. Every so often, though, you get that sense that, yes, something has fundamentally changed about the world and there's no going back.


    Pinball! 17 or so. First year at University. Tried a pinball table and I was lost. The trance-like state of mind that can come over you during a good game - nothing like it.

    I miss it terribly.


    Pinball! 17 or so. First year at University. Tried a pinball table and I was lost. The trance-like state of mind that can come over you during a good game - nothing like it.

    I miss it terribly.

    But probably my first bicycle changed my life more seriously. I was probably 6 or 7. It gave me personal mobility and freedom, and 30+ years later I still cycle every day. My bicycle's far more important, and far more life-changing, than any electrical knick-knack.


    Electronics lab kit: aged 10. My parents were good about giving me learning gear, so I got my first electronics lab kit (basically a board with a bunch of spring connectors connected to various electronic parts that could be connected together temporarily to form various circuits) when I was about ten, and got newer ones every year or two for a couple of years after that.

    3-speed bicycle: aged 10. I'm guessing on the age, but this was revolutionary for me because I lived in a rural area, and for the first time I could actually get into town without my parents' help (how times have changed!).

    Pocket calculator: age 10. This was my mom's calculator - a non-programmable TI model with rechargeable NiCd batteries. I took the thing apart, examined it in detail, figured out how to compute square roots on it using the newtonian method. I suspect that the time I spent playing with this is what developed the programmer's mindset that served me well later on.

    Ham radio, age 10. Lots of really old surplus equipment, and later on equipment given to me by older (much!) ham friends. Learned about ham fests (swap meets) and boat anchors (equipment you don't need, but can't resist buying). Fortunately I didn't have much money.

    Mini-computer: age 11. My high school had access to a PDP-11/45 over a 110-baud modem link. This is where I started to learn to program.

    Reel-to-reel stereo tape, around age 13. Somewhere in here my father stopped telling me I couldn't use his Hi-Fi (remember that term?). So I'd listen to his tapes, and I also bought tapes of my own and used them to record off the air.

    GAME:ADVENT, age 13. Sometimes in the evening when the computer center wasn't crowded, Estatrek (that's what we called the sysadmin there, Jay Estabrook) would allocate us the 16k of core needed to run Adventure, and we would explore the colossal cave. Normally we only had 8k, which was not enough.

    Sears 10-speed bike, age 14. The thing weighed a ton, but it was fast enough and light enough to get me all the way into the computer center without having to ask my dad to drive me. Sometimes he would track me down at the computer center and drive me home, though. I still give him a hard time about that - he didn't think computers were good for much back then. I still love bicycles, 29 years later.

    Apple II, age 15. The same high school, years later, set up a computer lab with Apple II computers, which is where I first encountered machine language programming and a computer that wasn't shared, and thus on which one could not get in trouble by getting supervisor privileges. This is also where I first encountered Pascal and the UCSD p-system.

    Atari 800, Age 16. The atari was a bit revolutionary for me because it had such a complex set of I/O and graphics systems, some of which could only be programmed usefully at interrupt-time, so I got my first taste of real-time programming here.

    DECsystem 20, age 17. A real computer, finally. This is where I first encountered EMACS, a real LISP system (not that I got to play with it much), a real Pascal compiler, etc. I even got to hack on the Johnson portable C compiler - we did a port that ran on the '20.

    Car, age 19. I did actually buy a new car when I got my first job. In retrospect, not a very smart decision, but it made sense at the time. Prior to this I'd used a bicycle for most transportation, including bicycling home from college (about 50 miles).

    Oscilloscope, age 19. I worked for a company that did both digital and analog, and the hardware engineer was willing to show me things, so I learned how to use a 'scope for debugging real-time software.

    Logic analyzer, age 20. Even cooler than a 'scope, because it could track CPU cycles and figure out what instructions the CPU was executing, in real time. This was back in the days when we had pipelines, but not multiple execution units, so simulating the internal state of the chip was still possible.

    Free Software, age 21. Somewhere in here I encountered the Free Software Foundation and started hacking on the GNU C compiler. (I realize that you may have meant hardware more than software, but to me some of the most interesting technology I've encountered was software). This is also when I really started to grok LISP. Free software was a huge deal to me because I got kicked out of my high school for cracking security on their PDP-11 so that I could read the O.S. sources.

    Internet, age 21. My first personal encounter with the Internet was at the Free Software Foundation, which was essentially a bunch of turists at MIT's artificial intelligence lab. The Internet really revolutionized my ability to waste time.

    Motorcycle, age 23. This was the first ICE I had access to that was something I could actually work on myself. Not that I ever turned into a serious gearhead, but it was nice to stop being helpless around motors - over the years I had many opportunities to fix problems like water in the gas line, clogged carbs, wrong air mixture, dead battery, and so on.

    Open source kernel, age 27. For the first time, access to a real operating system in source code form that I could improve and the changes to which I could share (NetBSD).

    56k link to the internet from my house, age 29. My first online presence, my own domain, my own SMTP server, my own FTP server. No web at that point.

    TDMA cell phone, age 30. With the small battery, it would fit in my pocket. It seemed like a win at the time, but over the years I've grown disenchanted.

    Laptop, age 33. Not my first laptop, but the first one that was really useable as a computer. Running NetBSD. I never went back - laptops have pretty much freed me from being stuck in one place, so that now I can travel anywhere and still work full time or as much as I need to.

    Slashdot, age 34. The first news feed I'd encountered for geeks (aside from RISKS). I don't think we've yet seen the full implications of the shift that sites like /. began, but at this point I do not really read any news other than news sourced from feed sites like /. I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

    Mac OS X. Age 38. Commercial unix on a laptop, with a nice UI. The shine is off the apple a bit at this point, but at the time it was huge.

    Prius. Age 40. Possible to take road trips again.

    iPhone, age 42. Makes road trips a lot easier. Can check email anywhere, even between towns. Don't have to stay at brand-name motels. Can find exactly what I want (I'm a foodie) even in a town I've never visited. Useful enough that I remember to keep the battery charged (mostly).

    OLPC XO, age 42. Finally someone attacks the price half of the price/performance curve instead of the performance half. And a screen that can be read in the sunlight. I really, really hope this goes mainstream (none of the netbooks I've seen yet really qualify, but Pixel Qi is making interesting noises, and it's starting to sound like some ARM-based netbooks might hit the streets in the next six months).

    Facebook, age 43. It's been tried before, and facebook still doesn't have it quite right, but it's the first really plausible social networking site that's believable enough that most of the people I know have joined. People worry about privacy on facebook, but facebook has an aspect of Little Brother about it that I think people are currently underestimating.


    !I've never heard of Calibre before today. What a great looking piece of software. I am going to give it a spin immediately. Thanks.


    I've never owned a new car either, or indeed a second-hand one. But I did have several years of company cars, so that is cheating a bit.

    The first time I met a CD player, in the early-mid 80s I guess, I broke it. Used to pushing videos into a VCR, I pushed the tray (you were supposed to press a button) and twisted it. It wasn't mine either, and I felt a bit of an illiterate techno-peasant.

    I had my own typewriter in 1976 (Olivetti Dora) and the PCW 8256 was my first computer, in 1986 I think. Now my handwriting, which was very neat in my student days, is little used and almost illegible.

    I got my first watch at about 9, a Seiko. (For a few years recently I didn't wear one, but I do now.) Also about then (1967) I got my first still camera, a Kodak Instamatic 25, which I still have. When I was 15 I got a Super-8 movie camera (a Bolex 233)... that had more impact on my little brother, though, who eventually went on to film school and became a director.

    I first used Photoshop and AfterEffects on an office Mac in 1996, but I didn't really get my own capable-enough machine (a G3 laptop) until 1999.

    They all seem like a slow accretion of stuff, nothing super-life-changing. I suppose every time I came across something and had it for myself, I had previously been surrounded by other people - inlcuding parents - who had similar stuff already. I was never cutting-edge.


    oops. does long ago count? I've got only one entry:

  • Gutenberg's invention. It was in the early fifties that I was introduced to the printed word and since then there is only one addiction worth pursuing, at least for me. So, for mr Stross and all his collegues: keep up the good work!
  • Oh, well, a second one. Or a third one.

  • Coffee (or maybe somewhat later, but certainly before my 15th).
  • Beer (yes, our generation was that slow).
  • And my first desktop computer? The Olivetti 101, in 1971. (I was 25 by then). A strange machine, with (if I remember rightly) about 7 (seven) registers for values and about 100 (maybe exactly 101, who still knows) programmable words/bytes/registers. And no function keys: programming the logarithm took about half the available space...


    Apologies for the long comment which follows; I've taken it as a chance to reminisce a little bit and will probably harvest it for a separate article else where in the near future.

    [Background: born in 1980, in the UK, though lived near San Francisco for a few years.]

    Computer (Aged 2, 1982): I'm told that there were concerns about my mental development when I was little, and my parents were advised to get a computer - so they did (presumably at hideous expense.) So I was introduced to a BBC Model B microcomputer. Apparently I started editing computer code a year later, but a few years later was mainly distracted by games like Frogger and Chuckie Egg, and later, Elite.

    Web (Aged 8-9, 1989): Went with my dad to his place of work at the weekend, where he enthused about this new accessible, graphical, tool called Mosaic, that -- at the time -- I didn't properly appreciate. (I was, however, very impressed when he told me that he could change into a superuser!)

    However, it was only after moving away from the parental abode in the sticks, much, much later in 1999, that I was able to get regular access to the Internet.

    Nintendo (Aged 9, 1989): We got a NES. It had a light gun. We played games on it.

    PC (Aged 12, 1992): Dad brought home an old 80286 desktop with 4MB of RAM which was no-longer needed at work, loaded with a copy of MSDOS 5 and Windows 3.1, and dedicates it for shared family use. I effectively become responsible for it's upkeep, occasionally breaking things and sometimes needing help to fix it again.

    It was eventually replaced with other old work machines; first, a 386SX with a discarded caddy-loading double-speed CDROM drive that I managed to coerce into working again; second, a 486 DX2 50 which had cost a staggering amount of money a few years earlier.

    This survived until a new Dell PC was procured -- back in the days when Dell was new and renowned for its excellent customer service. It was on this Dell that I first installed and played with Linux in the form of RedHat 5.2, and spent several months working out how to build new kernel images and reading man pages into the wee small hours.

    My first own personal computer, not shared with the rest of the family, was a Pentium 3 450Mhz machine I assembled from parts I'd mail-ordered, just before leaving for university in the summer of 1999. It was also my TV, personal stereo and DVD player -- I decided that carting one heavy CRT from one student residence to the next was plenty. I still have most of the bits; many remain in active service, 10 years later.

    Computer gaming actually turned out to be the primary driver for upgrades, whether funded by myself or my long-suffering parents! In hindsight, however, I wish that we'd gotten regular Internet connectivity earlier -- I would have gotten access to programming tools and peer support that I never really got until I started my SoftEng degree at university, and might be a better programmer today.

    Graphical Calculator (Aged 17, 1997): Procured to support A-level Mathematics and Physics studies; a battery-powered Casio with a monochrome screen measuring about 50x40 pixels. It served me well, but programming it to do interesting interactive graphical things was virtually impossible; programmatic access to the frame buffer could only affect single-pixel changes at about 1Hz.

    Mobile phone (Aged 19, 1999): On the day that I was to leave for university, just before we're due to depart, my Dad announces that he'll be right back, jumps in the car, and disappears -- to what end, neither my mother or I are aware. He comes back about half an hour later, emerges from the car and addresses my mother: "I have a present for you." He then produces a new boxed mobile phone that he'd just purchased, adorned with Vodaphone logos, and hands it to me. This was, it was explained, primarily so that my mother could phone me -- though it was okay if I called home (or even other people) with it, too.

    Since then, it's grown in functionality -- I also use it as a poor-man's PDA and MP3 player.

    Have never had: typewriter, record player, car, eBook reader, dedicated MP3 player.


    David: Mosaic was 1992. Trust me on this (I was working with betas at the time.)


    Question: What item of technology changed your life, and when did you first meet it?

    I believe I had three points that made my world go 'whooah!'.

    First would be walkman - I might have been 12 or so (so the year would be 1982, don't laugh, it wasn't that easy to get such advanced trinkets in communist Poland :). My violin teacher introduced me to some bulky Sanyo device, that had those horrible, skull-intruding headphones. Scary thing. But hey, it was playing music, just for me, in private! And I could take the music with me! Sudden jump in life quality, thanks to truly alien technology.

    Next - Internet. Obviously. I've played with Fido two years before that (over fantastic 2800bps dialup), but Internet access (which in year 1996 for me consisted mostly of suspiciously dark terminal screen) was something impossible to comprehend. What, I can send mail? And the receiving party will be able to read it in few moments? That's simply defying laws of... well, postal system :)

    Lastly: Palm device. Or rather 'device that scored suprisingly high on MIPS/kg ratio' :D When I was in secondary school, I had this idea of having a small palm-sized device, with a large LCD display, and - a floppy drive. You insert a floppy with lots of .txt files, and you can read them. When I saw Palm IIIc sometime around 2000 that was running Plucker, I was in heaven. Perfect thing for reading books/docs, and I've earned my first pair of glasses after wasting my eyes, staring at the tiny screen.

    Now, to make it clear: those three "points" were moments when my world and the way I do stuff changed dramaticaly. Later "upgrades", while nice, only expanded on the acquired "powers" (ie. Palm IIIc -> T3 -> n810 -> android G1). You already know that you can do X, new technology only makes this X shinier or more colorful. And it looks like the breakpoints were: - you can make things portable! (walkman) - information is better when it has decent bandwidth and latency (Internet) - you know what? you can combine those two points above (palm)

    Now I'm waiting for a good wearable/distributed system. Or for something that will again shake my comprehension of the world.

    One extra question for you, Charles: how can you cope with Calibri without losing Sanity? :) It 'sucks less' than the others, but it's pretty crude tool, spiked with not quite expected behaviour.


    iceteajunkie: I mostly use the command line tools. I'm old school that way.


    @SMD: orange vs. green -- it ws a feature of the monitor, not of the computer. You could buy three versions of computer monitor (for CPM-systems and early MSDOS and Apple II and the like) -- the standard green CRT monochrome monitor, the a-bit-better-readable orange monochrome CRT monitor, and the professional real-black-and-white monochrome CRT monitor.

    It was a great thing for me (age 11, that's 1986) to find out that our semiprofessional home computer - an Olympia people CPM/and later MSDOS system - could be programmed to show different shades of gray, eh, green.

    Of course, the first computer I bought myself was the Amiga, capable of showing 4096 colours in the same screen (with some tweaking).


    My Dad got a scientific calculator sometime in the 70s. "What do all these buttons do?" I asked at the age of 4. It took me 13 years to finish finding out, and I broke two of my own along the way. (I remember when W H Smith kept calculators locked away in a cabinet because they were valuable*)

    At the age of maybe 9 I was given a big chunky headset that was a radio. There were radio stations other than Radio 4! It was like a whole new world. I rapidly gravitated to the local commercial station, a mixture of unforgettable old pop and forgettable new pop. All my radios have either been integral to a stereo, or badly designed for how I used them; on the other hand, they've mostly been gifts or salvage.

    Probably my bicycle changed my life; it certainly was my main way of visiting friends from the age of 13-17.

    • They used to be next to the posh fountain pens that are still locked away
  • Wrist watch: age 7 -- it was digital with a little picture of Snoopy playing baseball that moved.

  • Record player: age 1 -- my parents had one for me as a baby.

  • Cassette recorder: never had one as a standalone unit.

  • Typewriter: never had one. My mom had one, but I've never had one of my own. They were obsolete before I needed one.

  • Stereo radio-cassette recorder: age 14. It had a little TV in it too.

  • Computer: aged 12, my dad's old 80286 beige box clone. We had computers in the family before that, but I was the only kid in my class who had his own. Most families didn't even have them yet.

  • Cassette Walkman: age 7 -- I'd listen to books on tape during car trips.

  • Colour TV: age 16 -- oddly, I had a black and white TV I wouldn't replace until then even though I could have gotten one sooner.

  • 9: Real computer: age 12, though it was a bit out dated. I built my first computer when I was 16, and it was more up to date.

  • Laptop: age 29 -- I bought it on a whim because it was on sale for $300, but I don't have much use for one.

  • Modem: aged 12 -- it came with my computer but I didn't use it until I was 14. A 2400...

  • First PDA: age 19, some brick-sized unit that was pretty full featured but I don't remember the brand. Traded it for a lighter Palm Pilot III and then a Sony Clie. But I don't have one any more, not much use.

  • Mobile Phone: 22, I was a late adopter... I had a pager before that.

  • MP3 player: age 24, a 128mb Toshiba of some sort. Crappy user interface, it took two hands to use.

  • eBook reader: don't have one.

  • Brand new car: aged 22, a Mazda3. My parents helped by buy it when I moved out of state. I'm not mechanically inclined toward vehicles, so they wanted me to have something reliable.

  • 28:

    CD player. I'd had my own stereo with a record player since I was about 13, but when I graduated college at the end of '87, my family gave me a Sony Discman—CDs were still pretty new. I quickly set to building up a library of CDs, and 10 months later, I moved to Japan and carried my entire music collection on my back (of course now, I could carry 10x as much music in my pocket, but never mind).

    Bike: When I was 9 or so, my dad got me a used, red Raleigh Mountie with 24" wheels. I think that was my first "real" bike. My family spent summers in a rural area, and town was about 3 miles away. Having that bike gave me independence, and gave me good habits that still persist.

    The Mac: I'd heard about this new Apple thing when I was in high school, and was wandering around on a winter day in Chicago when I went past a computer store that had one set up. I walked in and started playing with it—resizing windows with a mouse, changing fonts, etc—and it was like I had stepped through the looking glass, it was so completely different from the phonebooth-sized DEC we had in school. I went to college the following autumn and bought my own shortly after arriving there.

    The web: I'd been using computers in some form since I was 13, and had seen incremental advances for a long—I had started out on a time-sharing system, so when I first used a 1-line BBS, that didn't feel like a huge change. When I first used Compuserve, that didn't feel like a huge change. When I got my first Internet logon, that actually felt like a bit of a step backwards. But when a friend e-mailed me, inviting me to his office to show me the Web (he was running MacWeb on a Quadra 840 or something), and we started clicking from CERN (the home page was at CERN back then) to MIT to Stanford, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I knew "This is it. This is the way the Internet is going to be."


    The underlying assumtion of this thread is that technological progress will continue unabated.

    However, ever advancing technology may not be a given. IIRC There was an interesting article in US News a while back about the PBS/BBC program "The 1900 House". It compared the labor saving and entertainment gadgets in the 1900 house with those found in an "Ozzie and Harriet" house in 1950, and with a modern 2000 house. Interestingly, while the 1950 house would come as a major surprise to the Victorians of 50 years earlier, there is very little aside from a PC that Ozzie and Harriet wouldn't recognize in a 2000 house. The conclusion, all the really big innovations in consumer goods, entertainment and productivity occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The second half saw little more than incremental improvements - e.g. compare the invention of the TV with the improvements of color TV or Cable. The Victorians would not know what a TV is, but Ozzie and Harriet would recognize even a modern TV as just a better version of their own TV. Morale of the story, true innovations - new things - may be running out of steam, leaving s with only improvements of existing devices.


    Christmas Day, 1983: An Apple ][+. I was 18.


    Still got my ZX-80 and, I suspect, somewhere, an FX702p or at least something vaguely similar, together with its printer, but no more thermal paper rolls.

    I remember my first Mac, in 1986, second-hand for £1,500, which is what I paid in 2003 for the tiny Sony (2003) I'm typing this on and what I will probably pay for its replacement.

    I remember the Motorola brick phone (1987), which even worked from Calais sea front on those days. Do I miss it? No!

    No nostalgia for the 50 baud accounstic coupler that first got me in touch with the outside world - my broadband speed topped 1000 Kb/s at one point last week.

    Glad to say that my eyes (ten years older than yours, Charlie) still read eBooks on my iPaq (2007), which also handles a lot of my MP3 requiremnts, but is useless as a mobile internet device.

    As for my comfortable, luxurious and multi-processored car, I wouldn't happily go back to what I was given by father in 1973 - sooooo unreliable by comparison!

    Roll on a decent eBook reader at £100 with a 500 gig storage, a whole-house music system, a laptop capable of runnning multiple virtual 64-bit computers off a 1 terabyte SSD and an affordable WXGA projector. Might even replace the 1990 television one day. If 'they' ever do anything about the lack of content...


    A reconditioned Orange SPV M600 bought on eBay about 18 months ago for £78.

    With TomeRaider 3 installed along with a cheap 2 GB memory stick and a static copy of Wikipedia circa 2005 sans images it acts as something very close to a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (including Wikipedian idiosyncrasies).

    Having such a hefty chunk of reference material with me all the time and zero timelag has made a huge difference to my life.


    Charlie, you were born in mid-sixties, right? A lot of your tech-history sounds familiar. Anyway, this seemed like a good post to delurk.

    Let's see... I got my first personal casette recorder at the tender age of 7, but grew up surrounded with always the latest in music tech. Comes from having a musician for a father. However, the recorder changed my life because from then on I didn't have to ask anyone to play my music for me: I could just get Dad to put me together a tape -- directly from the record player, I didn't know how to do that at 7 -- and listen to my heart's content.

    Inherited Mum's typewriter - a very nice, soft-typing portable Olive - at the age of 12. It changed my life, too.

    Headphones at age 14. They came with the Walkman, as big as some of my handbags, but the headphones were more important: now I could listen as loudly as I wanted, to whatever I wanted, while writing. A life-changing moment, undoubtedly, because it resulted in first professional publication.

    First VCR, age 18. As I am the movie type, it really changed my life. Now I could re-watch old favourites and analyse them in a whole new way. Although not in a direct way, this led to the discovery of cultural theory. Another life-changing event.

    Computer, age 19. It was a Commodore64, the really cool version with a disk drive. It could type - and it could even type the exotic characters I needed to write in my native language (Croatian). I wrote my first (publishable) novel on it. Had to print it out to be of any use, of course, but, again, I had an unbelievably cool 9-pin printer. 9 pins! Practically readable letters! Awesome!

    First real computer, age 22. A 486 with a whooping 12 MB of RAM and a huge 80 MB disk. The sheer speed of things.

    First modem/personal net access, around age 25. Usenet. A whole new world, if you will forgive the expression.

    Then the laptops, although that didn't seem really as important as all that at the time.

    First scanner, age 26, together with a colour printer. A visual heaven.

    First mobile phone, age 31. More of a bother than anything else. Ten years later, it's a mobile bookshelf and handwriting-recognising notepad that can handle phonecalls as well, and I love it to bits.

    MP3 player: never owned one. With kids and dogs as almost inevitable companions when on the street, it's a bad idea to not be able to hear things. At home, headphones are still loved and cherished... but I've got the computer to play stuff from.

    Car: never owned one, either, nor really wanted to.


    stereo (as opposed to mono) record player: about 1970 digital calculator: 1972 (not owning one, but building the displays for those early, expensive 6-function models) color TV: 1974 (in time to see Pioneer's pictures of Jupiter - unprocessed, thanks to living in Silicon Valley) computer: 1987 (DOS and amber screen, and it was running fine in 1992 when I sold it)


    Doowop @29 Morale of the story, true innovations - new things - may be running out of steam, leaving s with only improvements of existing devices.

    Interesting point. Maybe the obvious labour-saving niches have been filled, leaving no need for new devices, only better ones.

    That doesn't mean that mere improvements don't change things. The microwave oven is clearly just an improvement on the standard oven, but it transformed pub food in the UK. For that matter lots of people buy lunches in a pot and heat them in a microwave at work; previously you'd have to go to a canteen or restaurant for hot food, or otherwise eat something cold.

    The mobile telephone is just an improvement on the immobile version, but with the old ones you didn't have to tell kids to turn them off in class; for that matter, if there's a problem, you can get hold of a parent on their mobile (and if needed they can call their child on their mobile). If someone is missing from class, this can happen minutes after you've marked them missing in your electronic register.


    My first computer was a PDP-8i in a lab where I worked; at age 28 it didn't change my life. In fact no computer (of the dozens I used at work or owned) really changed my life until:

    First window-managed graphic computer: age 38 (1984) - a Smalltalk computer build by Tektronix, whom I worked for. I got to play with the user interfaces that made the Mac, and later Windows, so popular, and developed a desire for it so great that I was spoiled for most other computers. Luckily, the reason I got that one was that it was my job to make the same sort of thing happen on other Tektronix computers, so I got to use a lot of them over the next few years.

    First Laptop: age 54 - a Mac G3 (the Pismo model). I could finally take my computing environment with me, and work on things both at home and at work. Also, it was my first computer with wifi, so I could go anywhere in the house, and later at work or in a lot of places in the city.

    First SLR (35mm film) camera: age 20 - I'd been taking pictures with several viewfinder cameras; being able to see what I was shooting made a huge difference in the way I compose shots in the camera. Being able to advance frames in under 2 seconds without taking my eye from the finder made multiple shots of a subject common.

    First color TV: age 23 - In fact, the first TV I ever owned. I couldn't afford to buy one, so I bought a kit and assembled it for about what a B&W TV would have cost. Made watching TV interesting enough to actually do it, and made experimenting with video effects much more fun whenever I could borrow a color camera from work or a friend.

    First internet connection: age 35 - Our software team got a Vax as a development machine, and a connection to the net. I discovered that email could exchange messages anywhere in the world within minutes, and that usenet was a truly monstrous time sink. But it opened me up the idea that there was a vast fund of information out there if you could just find the piece you needed.

    First Volvo station wagon: age 40 - All the cars I'd owned before had been relatively cheap, and not very good technology (except for the Corvair; handled well most of the time, but did have a tendency to roll over on fast turns). I bought a used Volvo after my Toyota wagon died. It handled and drove better than any other car I'd owned before, carried everything I needed from groceries to furniture to dogs, and had enough headroom that I didn't bump my head on the roof (a problem with the Toyota). I've owned 2 Volvos in the succeeding 23 years, and no other car. They wear pretty well too.

    First PDA: age 62 - an Apple iPod Touch. I like having an iPod for the music, and I carry a cell phone; I didn't want 3 devices on my belt, and I didn't like any of the smart phones available. When the iPhone came out I was unhappy with the service plans, but having a Touch and my old cell phone works OK. And now I have my music, scientific lectures and podcasts, my photographs, my calendar, a scientific calculator, and interactive fiction / adventure games, all on one gadget that I can hold comfortably in my hand. If nothing else it makes that long wait in the doctor's office much more pleasant.


    Internet connection, aged about 38. What little I have published wouldn't have been published without it.


    In 1967, when I was 12, my brother and I built and operated a ham radio. People all over the world were coming into our basement. Neither of us kept it up as adults.

    I worked with computers during my career but then I became disabled. When I bought one of the first line of laptops plus internet, I regained a social life that I'd lost during the years since I'd become disabled.


    The mobile telephone is just an improvement on the immobile version

    Tell that to the farmers who can take their phone out to the far end of the place and be able to call for help if they need it. It's a big improvement for a lot of people outside of urban areas.


    Airplanes. My Dad took me to my first airshow in a laundry basket, and we went back almost every year. But airplanes didn't change my life until we joined the EAA and started getting the membership magazines (I was 12). That was when I finally started to figure out that people actually built these things at home. I don't own one (yet) and I gave up actively flying shortly after I earned my pilot's license (for now), but since I've worked in aerospace over 20 years, I read practically nothing but aviation books (aside from science fiction), and my only long term goals have always related to airplanes, I think they qualify.


    About age 12, 1950s: Television. We could get one and a half stations. Later, thanks to satellite TV, it was possible to get hundreds of stations in the same area.

    1970s: Calculators; think my first four-function one cost about $50. Better ones are now available for a dollar or less.

    1992: Full access to Bitnet and the Internet.


    Airplanes. My Dad took me to my first airshow in a laundry basket (I was 1.5), and we went back almost every year. But airplanes didn't change my life until we joined the EAA and started getting the membership magazines (I was 12). That was when I finally started to figure out that people actually built these things at home. I don't own one (yet) and I gave up actively flying shortly after I earned my pilot's license (for now), but since I've worked in aerospace over 20 years, I read practically nothing but aviation books (aside from the SF of course), and my only long term goals have always related to designing, building, restoring, flying, and owning airplanes, I think it qualifies.


  • Transistor radio: Age 10: My first ever purchase of a gadget. Saved up my pocket money and sent a postal order off to some or other comic with a coupon advert. Received a palm-sized red plastic tranny that ran forever on a 9v battery and coulfd just manage Radio Luxemburg. That radio was a big part of my life.
  • Wristwatch: Age 12, a present bought for me in the late seventies. A Casio LCD watch, and I recall the geeky excitement of watching the time change to 12:34 5:6:78 - also, I recall the shock of realising that I could no longer read analogue clocks at a glance.
  • Record Player: I have never owned a record player or a Hi-Fi, and grew up in a household without one.
  • Cassette recorder: Borrowed my sister's occasionally, from the age of 7 or 8. Never owned one.
  • Walkman: aged 16. The City chess club gave me free membership so I discreetly diverted the money I'd been given into purchasing a Hong-Kong made copy of the new Walkman. My first experience of Stereo sound, and a great expansion of the world of the senses.
  • Typewriter: never owned one. Borrowed my sister's tiny portable for a very small number of formal letters - first job, first CV, covering letter for my Oxford application.
  • Stereo radio-cassette recorder: aged 17. My first ghetto blaster! A Taiwanese knock-off of a Sony... It turned out that the second pair of speakers, labelled 'passive radiators' in the impressive-looking brochure, had neither coils or wiring.
  • My second Walkman: Aged 18. Strictly speaking, this doesn't belong on a 'firsts' list, but it's worth including for this reason: I saw the 'Load it with Gold Seal' poster campaign, with an AA battery sliding into a top-of the range Sony Walkman, and I ached to buy one. So this is a real landmark: the first time that fashion-driven advertising for consumer electronics worked on me.
  • Real computer: Aged 28, in 1995, to allow me to start a prt-time degreee in computing. £300 quid second-hand, an IBM PS2. It even had the original ProPrinter! The student body consisted of rich kids with the new Windows 95 rocketships, and the rest of us scratching around on outdated hardware and, in the process, learning rather more than our economic uberclass.
  • Internet access: Aged 29, at DeMontfort University, in the evenings, 1995. I was unable to obtain a dialup at home until 1998, but have never been without web access - even if by web cafe, since 1995.
  • Mobile phone: Aged 33, in 2000.
  • Laptop: aged 34, in 2000, a Sony Vaio.
  • Colour television: Aged 35, in 2001. I had never owned a television (I'd used a Hauppage WinTV card in my second PC since 1998) and thought I never would. But I got a little portable so that the telecomms bloke from NTL wouldn't have a mental breakdown when he wired up my new apartment to cable and discovered that I was only interested in the 'free' broadband that came with cable TV.
  • First PDA: Never owned one. Maybe the iPhone I purchesed last year counts.
  • Mp3 player: Never owned one. Again, maybe the iPhone counts, so put me in for age 41... I've bought a handful of tracks from iTunes, but stopped doing so recently as Amazon offer a far better DRM-free deal.
  • E-Book reader: Never owned one. After discovering that e-books are almost impossible to transfer when upgrading computers, I am hostile to the whole idea.
  • Motor car: never owned one.
  • 44:

    While I had a computer before it, the one that really changed my life was an old hand-me-down IBM thinkpad when I was 14, I think it was a 700 series.

    It was the first computer I had all to my self, with a wifi expansion card for internet access without tying up the only phone line in the house. That laptop lasted four years until the hinge finally snapped.

    I've had computers since then, but none set me free as much as that one did.


    "Do you remember what it was like to live before the internet, or mobile phones, or compact discs, or walkmen?"

    I reflect on this thought, I was born in 1967.

    To be honest, I really haven't seen almost anything change that I hadn't been directly involved with since I was about 7.

    I mean computers have gotten faster and so has networking, but few other things really. At 7 (1974) I had stolen Cable TV from the Neighbors and eventually got in a lot of trouble for it when I mom saw lots of my friends coming over to watch TV. We could never have afforded cable ourselves. Built my first computer from scratch. I had a ton of reel to reel, record players, cassette and 8 track players that I gathered from the trash and repaired and sold. Also no shortage of broken Color TV's. Every TV I ever owned was savaged and repaired. Had an LED based digital Watch from some holiday too. That was cool, since I could look around under the covers with the RED led light. I guess it would tell time too.

    And by in large the most significant thing was watching the Twin Towers get erected from my kitchen window every day. But this is now gone.

    Since then, by age 12 I had machined a 2 stroke engine from scratch and made a crude moped. I had contracts programming Tandy model II and III computers for North Jersey Buick dealerships to help there salesmen provide a printout to customers with all of the cars features and a price encoded so the sales guys would know there price. At that point I had also been fixing broken CB radios for people and had acquired some from that. Had built my own modem from scratch, and a number of telephone based gadgets.

    At 14, (1981) I started making digital samplers and music synthesizers for what would be come some of the earliest Rap/hip hop/house and techno music in New York City. Based on TRS80's ,Commodore PET's and 64's.

    By 16 I had acquired a CD player (1983) about 2 years before they came out in 1985. There were no discs available and the Italians that had come across this secret Japanese technology brought it to me because they didn't know what to make of it when they inadvertently came in possession of a shipping container full of the players, I am sure they were hoping for Walkman or something they could sell. I remember the joke was "it fell of the back of a ship cough " I am sure Sony is still wondering where that container went. Ironically if there weren't so protective of it and drew attention, they wouldn't have lost it.

    At that point my life was mostly trying to hack government computers to get on the "NET" , crack long distance codes, and find ways to play games with the phone companies, credit cards, and credit bureaus (AKA Bastards). We also had a packet based radio network amongst my friends and ran one of the largest BBS's on the east coast with 64 floppy drives connected to one TRS80 model III.

    Also at 16 (1983) I did much of the heavy lifting to build a TV Studio and set up Public Access Channel V in Clifton New Jersey with grants from the local Cable TV provider, we had taken over 1/3 of the schools library to do this. And at 17 while a high school senior was officially an employee of the board of education and still a student. At this time we had finally finished downloading a pirated version of Unix Source code at 300 Baud and began a 5 year attempt to make that code run on PC's.

    At 19/20 (1987) I was working at Stanford doing cancer research, where I first had legitimate access to the Internet at 10 Mbps. At this point I had uncompressed streaming audio and video across there campus network, and started selling the first commercial sound product for PC's the audio byte.

    Come 1992 I posted 386BSD on to the Internet the first complete Open Source OS. It had been running for almost 4 years but the team at Berkeley was not publishing it. So when they decided to back out I took matters in to my own hands. The Internet has never been the same since being that was also the first clean source code for a TCP/IP stack, FTP, TELNET, DNS, and a whole mess of other Internet services.

    So for me it's always seemed like this stuff is moving really slowly. I am constantly pounding to move these things forward in the right direction and overcome resistance.

    The only thing I really appreciate is the improvements from Moores law.

    The one technology that changed my life was Surface mount electronics and FPGA that have rendered much of my electronics skills useless. Since for almost all of my work was done on close to zero cash, and FPGA's and surface mounts cost a lot of money to work with I have hit a wall there. As such I have been relegated to software and also the push for GPL Linux because again, there is a lot of forces also trying to raise the cost of programming. Like M$, Adobe, Java, IBM, who's wonderful tools make it too expensive to the non cooperate no college types.

    So I guess the few changes that have really effected my life has been negative.

    Even the explosion of Internet technology was like me and my buddies had a private beach we loved to hang out on and suddenly it was open to a hoard of idiots that came in and trashed the place. Leaving SPAM and garbage everywhere. Thank god for GOOGLE!

    So here I sit some 33 years later doing almost the same thing, back hurts more now, but for the most part technology had only served to limit my options, and now days it's not nearly as easy to work around.

    I can no longer fix my car, or build my own electronics or network and make calls without everything being monitored. I can't even Intercept the HDMI video going into my TV because it's all encrypted.

    So where is the upside here? I guess I am a High Tech Luddite.


    (delurking too)

    Perhaps the domestic equipment of the 1950s was unrecognisable to late Victorians as the class structure had changed so much? At least in Europe and the US the middle-class idea of small homes run without staff changed the way that people lived substantially.

    Down the hill from where I live an old matriarch recently passed away. Her large, old house would be completely familiar to someone from 1900 - no refrigerator, an old telephone in the hall, a range to cook on. And two staff.

    Back on topic:

    Early 1970s: cassette tape player

    Mid 1970s: first decent bicycle - got me out of the house!

    1978: Commodore PET - helped me find my trade

    1990: Email - suddenly links between friends in foreign countries became much easier

    1991: Gopher - easily accessed information pages, yay!


    VZ-200 ... so, tragically, like many people of my generation, my first exposure to programming was BASIC.


    The things that really changed my life : - the local library with their science fiction library : discoverd when I was 10 or so - my zxspectrum and my amiga helped me cope with life from age 12 or so onwards - thing that really changed my way of life : compuworld account. First at work (23 years old then in 1994) and then at home... bliss...


    One more for the PCW club in 1986. That machine didn't just change lives, it changed society.

    First mobile 2000, broadband home connection + wireless network 2006, first MP3 (ipod) last year. It occurs to me that with the near ubiquity of fast processing + wireless, + reasonably user friendly and intuitive UIs, that we're FINALLY getting to live the life sf has been talking about for years.


    @49: PCW club in 1986. That machine didn't just change lives, it changed society.

    What was so special about that machine ? While I remember it (it was sold as "Joyce" in Germany), I regarded it as some kind of already outdated CP/M machine....



    First "whoa!" was probably getting my paws on a computer, that would've been around age 10-11, at a "parent-child BASIC programming" class held via Medborgarskolan ("The citizens' school", a Swedish outfit having a vast plethora of training classes). I was eventually given a ZX-81 at, I guess, age 13-or-so.

    The next piece of "whoa!" tech was, believe it or not, a gas cooker (I grew up cooking on electric) at age 16 or 17, making me briefly re-consider a career as chef.


    Charlie, you never owned a car, or never owned a new car? There is a massive difference between those two statements, so I ask for clarification. Never owning a new car is just a sign that you're a smart buyer. Never owning a car is a sign that you have idiosyncratic (and admirable) consumption preferences.

    Only pieces of technology that changed my life when I got them were: (1) my first (used) car; (2) my first laptop (archival research got a boatload easier); (3) my first microwave oven, which I bought in Mexico in 1997, oddly enough; and (4) my first cellphone.

    Oh, yeah, and my first Walkman. When the hell was that? 1983? Christ, I had this great hip-hop from a group of southern women that I don't think I'm ever ever gonna be able to find again. Never shoulda tossed those cassette tapes.

    The typewriter was great, but 'twas the classes in typing in junior high what made it useful. Tape recorder fun to play with, but I can't remember a time when we didn't have one to mess around with.

    My ebook reader (the Kindle, FWIW) is turning out to be a technology to which I am very much not suited. No explanation, no excuse, no problem with the design. It just turns out that I rely too much on a tactile memory --- where was that passage again? The thing I didn't note but now realize is important? Yeah, there! Can't do that on a reader. Least I can't. Young'uns might do better.


    Chris@15. Pinball for me too - I did have a vic-20 but sort of gave computing up when I went to Uni... not my smartest move.

    I learned pinball circa 1988 on Police Force at Potterrow Union in Edinburgh - I once put the ball round the million ramp 52 times! I was soon part of the local pinball clique. A bunch of reprobates they were (quite a few med students) and they're probably largely responsible for my poor university career.

    There are still a few tables about - I've played a Spiderman tie-in. They are few & far between, though, and there don't seem to be many decent players.

    I still sign using the initials I used for high scores too.


    Noel: I never bought a new car, and I did manage to spend my mid-20's to mid-30's carless, but I currently own a 14 year old Volvo estate, and might even be replacing it with a new(er) one in the next couple of years.

    That car is a mid-1990s model. Bits of it would look a little futuristic to a time traveller from the 1950s, but they'd be able to get in and drive. In contrast, the technology shock whenever I get in a new car is severe: the electronics have completely taken over.

    On typewriters: I'm of an age that typing wasn't taught to boys in British schools. If it came in at all, it would have been a few years later, on the back of ubiquitous PCs.

    Andreas: the thing about the PCW was exactly that it was an obsolescent CP/M machine. It was also a complete system, printer and all, in a box for approximately 25% the price of an equivalent system built around a PC-XT clone. Plug it in and everything just worked. The dedicated word processing package it came with was the gateway drug, but the machine itself was competent to do lots of other stuff, and it allowed a lot of folks to get their hands on a business-worthy computer for the first time, who would otherwise have been unable to afford one (or rather, to justify spending £2000 or so at that time).


    Typing wasn't taught to boys? As in, you couldn't get typing lessons even if you wanted to? Sometimes I'm glad that I grew up in a system where gender equality was at least officially the norm.


    The thing that changed my life was my dad bringing a BBC Micro home from the school he worked at over the holiday in something like 1985-6 (I would have been 5-6 at that time.) With the brief intervention of an Amiga I ended up here, in a IT/tech job cushy enough that I can read a blog instead of working :)

    And for my generation, owning a mobile phone is as ubiquitous as having a credit/debit card, if not more.


    Milena: correct. At least, typing wasn't taught -- even as an option -- at the boys' grammar school I attended. Neither was cooking. I think that's changed (that particular school went co-ed a couple of years ago), but the British educational system has certain odd blind spots.


    I'm in uni now, so I have (sadly) taken the things that have been mentioned almost completely for granted: PC since I was too young to remember, mobile and mp3 player almost since primary school.

    But I did recently acquire (for free, somehow) a HP 2710p tablet PC and my god, as a mathematics undergrad it's hardly ever more than six feet from me. Being able to go back and add in and propogate forwards that -1 that got dropped thirty minutes back means gone are my days of filling half the floor with paper over a single assignment.

    On top of that, ubiquitous campus wifi, PDF lecture notes, and ebooks mean I'm never geographically isolated from information I need: it's all with me, all the time, and all searchable. It's made my life so much easier and more productive it doesn't bear thinking about going back to not having it.


    VERY interesting - let's see... Watch, sometime about 1957/8 going to Grammar school. Decent camera - 1961 Voigtlander Vito B .. various upgrades (& mistakes) over the years, including screw-fit Leitz equipment. Now use OM-4 taking film, and Olympus small (8Mb) digital. Computing first encountered at work in the early 70's, including old IBM "mainframe" with real, actual core store ... Because of employers' internal politics didn't go into computing full-time. LIfe would have been very different if I had ..... But, working in a commercial research lab at the time, meant that I was au fait with a lot of new kit, got to play with it, and didn't NEED it at home. Didn't get a home computer (2 before this one) until 1994 - and use Microshaft not Mac - I can (just about) still write BASIC code, though ..... Music: NEVER had poratble music-box and don't want one, but got decent hi-fi secondhand "Quad" valve kit, about 1975 - bought new (!) Cambridge Audio amplifier two months ago. TV - we were the first house in our road to have one 1953 - you can guess what for. We were also the first to give up - haven't had a TV for over 30 years, now. Information content too-often negative (You are more stupid, and know less after the programme's over). Mobile 'phone... 1996, I think - just too, too, useful. Cars: never had a new one, usually one made in Solihull, as is the present Beast. As for technology changing my life, I put visual imagery - photography almost up with computing, and, of course, with "digital, they have merged. A lot of it has been the psychological impact of things like the "space race" of the 1960's - and yes I watched the Moon Landings ... and despaired of the 35 wasted years since. I can remember the first trans-Channel (England/France) TV broadcast, about 1955/6, and now we have www / Google / live braodcast around the world. Clarke's dream has been fulfilled, at least.


    I tend to be a late adopter; my twenties were rather impoverished.

    First car: 1976.

    First stereo: 1979.

    First new car: 1989.

    First personal computer at work: 1995.

    First VCR: 2000.

    First DVD player: 2003.

    First DVR: 2005.

    First computer at home: 2006.

    First cell phone: probably this year.


    TV: always.

    Color TV: since age 5. Nowadays it's a widget that plugs into the computer

    Calculator: age 5 or so. Not my own, but my mother had one of the first models of scientific calculator in Australia, and I learned Reverse Polish Notation from it. I haven't had one of my own except for a brief period in high school/early college when they were needed for exams. The big black RPN one was great to borrow when I was counting elections for the student union -- nice solid clicky buttons, and no-one else would take it.

    Wristwatch: Age 10, I think. Still use one and feel anxious without it.

    Computer (TRS-80 Model III): age 13. Actual programming (yes, Basic does count), including the first version of a program for my mother's work that is still used (in later versions).

    TeX: age 18. It can make real books with real equations!.

    CD player: age 20. Previously it had just been radio.

    Internets: age 21. First encounter was using gopher to find contact details to apply for a job.

    Laptop: age 32. a white iBook. I'd used them before, but this was the first one that didn't suck too badly for routine use.

    Home wifi access point: age 33. Huge range of information, available immediately.

    digital camera: age 37. I bought a reasonable second-hand SLR at age 18, but I never reliably got around to getting film developed.

    ebook reader: Real Soon Now, I expect.

    On the other hand:

    Car: not one of my own yet (or perhaps ever).

    Mobile phone: yes, but it doesn't really change my life at all.

    PDA: tried it, but it never got used.


    The mobile telephone is just an improvement on the immobile version

    Actually, I suspect that the mobile telephone is a qualitative change, not a quantitative one. It has the familiar interface for ease of adoption, but the way you use it is fundamentally different. "Never be out of touch" is a new way of being.

    (Similarly, GPS navigators lead to a "never get lost" existence, which again is a new way of being.)


    mobile phones are definitely a qualitative change. You have to be at a school playground at 5:25, when a school outing bus returns late to a car park full of parents who weren't there ten minutes ago. Simply look at 60s and 70s TV; read; people waited around for things, and planned.

    As parents we give the babysitter our mobile numbers, and just head out for the evening, to meet friends whose evenings were similarly unplanned. My parents generation left a timetable of where they would be, and didn't deviate. Different culture.

    As for bicycles, while they were not "new technology" in our lifetimes, they should not be underestimated. I remember a colleague working in genetic profiling pointing out that the biggest change to happen in Ireland since its original colonisation 8000 years ago was the arrival of the bicycle. For the first time you could go to a dance in the neighbouring village to meet people, and not just your own ...


    The mobile telephone is just an improvement on the immobile version

    What made all the difference for me was the smartphone. Being able to stop carrying at least one book, one notebook (the paper kind!), and a camera in my bag and replacing it all with just one device in my pocket really was a life-changing thing, even if it only made it so much easier to do some of the things I would normally do. Maybe I'm just lazy, but if I can do something with less effort, I'm more likely to actually do it.


    Yet another delurk...

    I have another one: 1979 - Photocopier. Probably more accurately a photostat back then. Our Primary 7 teacher got us to produce short stories as groups, then somehow (in a rural Scottish school) got access to a photocopier and produced copies for each of us. I still have that blue-ink fascimile in a box in the attic somewhere.For years after, particularly when I began playing D&D in the early '80s, access to a photocopier was like electrum-dust, particularly if it could copy (whisper it) A3...


    Mobile phones are qualitatively different. Consider some second order effects. For one, landline phones connect to a place or an organization (a family home, for instance). So if you know one person's number, you know the number of everyone there. When someone has no landline, but only uses a mobile, that phone number connects only to that person. So I almost never talk to my daughter-in-law on the phone, because my son usually calls me, or I call him. On the other hand, I talk to her on email more often than on the phone.

    Another second order effect: when performing an errand that requires waiting, it's no longer necessary to wait at the point of service. For example, if I take my car in for service, I can walk over to Powells Books and browse, knowing that the shop will call me when the car is ready, and I can walk back in 15 minutes. I don't have to wait in their waiting room with the TV that's always tuned to CNN. This frees up hours of time in some cases. This also works for people on call, who can have a life instead of being tied to a landline. Several times when I've had an on-call sort of job I've gotten calls about website problems while hiking around with my dog.

    Another effect: using a mobile for a bomb detonator is much more convenient than using a landline. There are probably hundreds or even thousands of people every year who are affected by that.


    I remember my dad bringing home a reel-to-reel tape recorder when I was a kid back in the late 60's. We had a black-and-white television, a transistor radio (as opposed to the vacuum-tubed floor standing kind) and the rotary phone (only one) was hard-wired on the kitchen wall. Besides some kitchen appliances, these were the sum total of technology in the home.

    I'm kicking myself to this day because I didn't take the recorder and interview my now dead relatives about their lives and growing up in Chicago. My great-grandmother, who was born in 1891 was still alive and would have been a source of immense information about the family, etc.


    Andreas @50: it was indeed a cheap CP/M machine, but we didn't care about that because we didn't know what it meant, just what the machine did. It brought cheap and easy word processing to the masses and (also quite revolutionary) you bought monitor, CPU, printer and keyboard all in one package.


    junior library at 4+, adult library at 9 -10 (you had to get permission if you were under 14) TV at home at 14, didn't really make a dent in my reading, but had a vague idea what other people were talking about. My dad worked in a design studio, which used Macs from the mid '80s, so computers were purposed and my programming skills picked up years later are crude. - lots of access for reproductions . A breif exposure to the intertube, before it went 'public' as an undergrad; its still feels like peering the wrong way down a telescope but I've finally got the habit. The major technology that has impacted my life, matured about 1000 years ago: the frameloom*. The information content is rather limited, but the output is useful. This month, I got mobile broadband for my laptop (moving house again soon) and a really irritating touch screen phone (fat thumb syndrome). *Initial implimentation 7000BC had 2 bit storage, but later models can run unlimited lines of code, depending on the input system (e.g. 64k lines analogue, that's a big pile of cards, most I've used myself is a couple of hundred).


    Speaking of progress, this guy puts it all in perspective ("everything is amazing, nobody's happy):


    Girls: Age 16-my life hasn't been the same since


    Charlie, original post: The CD player was a sideways format-shift from vinyl, but not life-changing

    To me it was, because I never found vinyl usable. Sure, the covers and records look cool, but you can actually take a CD out and play it without an elaborate ceremony. Put it on shuffle (or even better, use a CD changer), and it's the ancestor of the mp3 player.

    As for new cars... My current car is 27 years old. If I at some point can afford a new car, I'll use the money for a decade-old luxury car instead.


    Me: The mobile telephone is just an improvement on the immobile version...

    I overstate my case with the word "just". It's more an improvement on landlines AND an improvement in walkie-talkies AND an improvement in long range radio transmission/reception AND, as it turns out, an improvement on the telegram AND an improvement on the answering machine. My point, such as it was, is that one person's improvement is another's step-change. My Mum, for example, is no easier to contact as she never turns it on, but keeps it for emergencies. She'd have it as a minor improvement (like Charlie "upgrading" from vinyl to CD) Other people run their businesses from them; they experience qualitative difference.

    Tell that to the farmers who can take their phone out to the far end of the place and be able to call for help if they need it.

    I have, and they agree with you. On the other hand, last time I hung around a farm office, they mostly called to say things like they'd run out of diesel at the far end of the far field, and to ask if we knew where they'd left their lunch; the same trivia everyone else uses them for, that makes the phone companies their money.


    Life changing technology: pencil and paper, age 2 (or 3).

    I did grow up without a walkman (never owned one, never met one till ~ 10 years of age or so), or computers (15 yo) or the Internet (19 yo). We didn't have a TV till 1985 (or 1986), and no fridge till about the same time period.

    The joy of growing up in a third world country.

    75: 74 THAT sort of life-changing ... OK

    Reading my Father's pre-war Pelican/Penguin copy of "Last & First Men" at age 9, and the Sayers' translation of Dante within another 6 months

  • Wrist watch: age 13. For years could not understand why wearing it bothered me so much, took some flak for wearing it on the outside of a sleeve. Eventually stopped wearing watches altogether; would often keep one in a pocket. Never had one of evil things since I got my first cellphone. Now I know I have extreme touch sensitivity in wrists, which makes anything like watches or bracelets a torture. Never had a digital watch.
  • Record player: Never
  • Cassette recorder: age 15. Never cared much about music, and it fell into disuse.
  • Typewriter: age 17. Barely used it before finding out I could type things on a university computer.
  • Stereo radio-cassette recorder: somewhere between 18 and 20. It was a gift from my parents; they thought they giving me a great present when in reality it ended up mostly gathering dust. The fact I do not remember exact year is telling. As I said, not musically inclined.
  • Computer: age 18. Atari 800XL
  • Cassette Walkman: Never
  • Colour TV: age 29. 9: Real computer: age 23 or 24. First year of grad school, 512K IBM PC
  • Laptop: age 36 (2002)
  • Modem: age 23 or 24 Same time as “real computer”
  • PDA: Never
  • Mobile Phone: some time in early 30’s Definitely had one by the age of 34, but do not remember exactly.
  • MP3 player: Never. I use my cell phone to play MP3’s - sometimes.
  • eBook reader: Never. Although may yet get one.
  • Brand new car: age 31 Eleven years have passed, and may soon get my second.
  • Tivo with DVD recorder: age 40. Was definitely a life-altering technology.


    Agree completely about qualitative difference between cell phones and landline phones. My cell phone is also my watch, calculator, calendar, notebook, camera, alarm clock, MP3 player, and (in rare cases) an email device. And yes, never being out of touch is something fundamentally new in human history.

    63: Couldn't you get to a dance in a neighboring village on a horse?

    I got my first VCR at the age of 20 or 21, and while it was not a life-changing technology by itself, it began to undermine "going out to the movies" for me. Value of "pause", "rewind" and "slow" functions first gained on, and later surpassed the value of "big screen". VCR+color TV was a big blow to my movie-going, and DVD player put the nail in it. The last time I went to a non-IMAX movie was 2003.


    @22: Charles is quite right about Mosaic. I did what I believe was the first port to an Intergraph C-300 workstation during the same year (beating the parent firm and a group of engineers in Huntsville, Alabama by three weeks and 7 revisions). Naturally there was one section of code that I could not get to work...something written by Microsoft, naturally.

    Computers Home: Apple II, Amiga 2000, Sony Vaio laptop, Toshiba Satellite laptop. Work: Intergraph workstation running CLIX, Numerous SUN workstations running SUNOS through SOLARIS.


    I was born in 1986,so, I guess I'm on the knife edge of the digital age, whatever that is. I mean there has always been a computer in my house. I have memories of me aged four or five playing with an Atari ST. But I remember not having the internet, and it being a novel new thing to do research for school homework on. Predictably I did ten minutes of work and goofed around trying to load the first version of the BBC kids site. It was very slow and very yellow.

    I suspect the first time I used the Internet was sometime in 96/97/98. On a 26kbs modem in my Dad's old office in Leicester. It was on an old PC running Windows 3.1.

    That probably changed everything for me. Mobile phones, DVD players and other stuff can go stuff themselves. The having access to the Internet from that age changed the way I thought.


    Neil @73, I keep my cellphone with me and on all the time except when I'm in the shower, for the reason the doctors made me buy it: I'm seriously ill and disabled and may need to call 911 in an inconvenient place. I haven't had to do that in the three years I've had it, but I have been able to get rid of the landline.

    It's kind of comforting, too. I used to have dreams where I would leave a building and my van would be gone and then I'd panic because I couldn't get home. I haven't had that dream since I've had the cellphone.


    There's a question here. You've played around with it, of course, Charlie, but there's a skew:

    If the internal functioning of a thing changes completely, but in such a way that casual users never notice, has it really changed at all?


    Asthma inhalers - 1982. Life-savers.

    Microwave oven - 1985. A serious time-saver and oven-space-saver for those of us who serve meals for many.

    Personal Computer - 1991. Usenet from my very own dorm room. Being able to write and revise on it--without either borrowing a typewriter or go to a hectic school computer lab--was a great convenience. Web came later, around 1994.

    iPod - 2005. A convenient way to listen to music I wanted, when and where I wanted, with thousands of songs on tap.

    TiVo - 2003. Not having to live at the mercy of the TV schedule AND being able to look up actors/directors/show titles and find them and hit a button to record them? Priceless!

    The mobile I regard as a mixed bag; I was forced to take it in 2001 and have grudgingly had it ever since. Sometimes, however, it has been very helpful, especially when charged. It can be very inconvenient when you need it--as in "I'm stranded in a place without a telephone"-- and it isn't charged, because people expect you have one and it's hard to find pay phones these days.


    Usenet - 1986, or there about. For the first time I could find a community of like-minded individuals. We forget that outside of a big city, your community was the people around you, and thats it: finding other cryptopunks, etc. was essentially impossible.

    77: Nope. Only the wealthy had horses: the poor had donkeys or "Shanks pony". You could get there when you needed, to markets, etc. but you didn't go frivolously.

    The size of peoples effective communities are hard to grasp in modern times. Before 1960 or so, Dublin (Ireland) was less effectively than 5 miles in diameter, and had been continuously inhabited for over a millennium. Based on and bisected by the river Liffey, you were over 98% likely to marry someone from the same side of the river.


    I would have to put three items in the list. The first two introduced me to computers and gaming, my ZX Spectrum+ and the Vectrex games console, probably got both when I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad worked with computers at the time but I couldn't touch his ones, these were mine to wreak havoc on.

    The other one was the BBC Micros we had in high school, that was when I actually learned how to do useful things with computers beyond playing games and simple programming. Wish I'd stuck with it...


    Two things:

    Visual Basic

    Digital camera


    My first Macintosh, sometime in the 1980s. Actually it was the San Diego Comic-Con's Macintosh; I had a committee position that required some writing and data processing, and the convention owned several for long-term long to department heads.

    Note that I do not say "my first computer." I had an old-style pre-PC desktop at one time; I never did much with it, beyond writing a couple of simple programs in Basic (and learning how easy it is to make logic errors in programming!). I had been asked to work on a PC running Word for the technical writing program in enrolled in in the 1980s, which led to my current career as a copy editor . . . and I hated every minute of it and swore never to touch another word processor again, because this was the CLI version of Word, which made very little sense to me, and required constantly looking at a scrawled list of which function key did what job. To this day I detest function keys.

    When I started buying computers again, my motto was, "I don't want a computer; I want a Macintosh." This was based on the many people who, at the time, would happily explain that a Macintosh wasn't really a computer, because it wasn't sufficiently friendly to writing your own code. I have every respect for people who can write code, but I have no more wish to write my own than to fill my own teeth. I was, and am, happy with the toaster model; and I find GUI a lot more accessible than CLI. Give me those affordances! The Macintosh has made a huge difference in my life.

    Of course, these days, I could effectively get a Macintosh from HP, or Dell, or any of several other companies that make Windows machines. But I still prefer the Apple Gui to the Windows GUI.


    Tape recorder: pretty early, I think, because I already had a battered double tape deck when the...


    entered my life, which would have been 1986 or 1987, a ZX Spectrum which used the said tape deck. This was the first one in the family.

    I gained an old record player somewhere a while later, but didn't have vaguely recent music things until the mid-90s, and it would be 1999 before I had a CD player.

    After the Spectrum, a while after, came the Amstrad PCW8256, and quite a long time later, the first PC. With the first PC came the Internet, in about 1995 or 1996 - my mother had the right to a JANET dialup modem at Bradford University. School got it a bit later, with only one machine actually having access (the lone Apple Mac) and permanently queued for. Then mum left that job and had to relinquish the JANET link; we didn't have access to the Internet for quite a while, even though we finally got cable in 1999 (for some weird reason they stayed with dialup).

    About then I got a LAPTOP! in fact, a reconditioned 486-33 Compaq job. A couple of years later I went abroad with it, and found that a) no-one used Lotus Word Pro any more and b) obtaining a modem better than 9.6kbaud that would work with it was prohibitively difficult even for the hall geeks.

    Later, my group at Informa eventually included someone who insisted on a PC and so I got the spare iBook; changing jobs I ended up with the current Samsung Q45. Linux arrived in autumn, 2007.

    Pager: 1999, already everyone else had GSM and nobody used it.

    GSM: Summer of 2000. UMTS: 2005. Digital photography: Nokia 6230, 2005. A real digital camera came later. (Silver halide, however, was part of my life from very early on.)

    GPS: Actually owned had to wait until summer 2008. (I'd had a phone with it on review in 2006 - HP iPaq 6548w?)

    Electronics lab kit - very early on, pre the Spectrum, and the same went for the chemistry set and the bike.

    Web presence - begins June 2003 to infinity and beyond, first shell account July 2008.

    88: 77 asks: 63: Couldn't you get to a dance in a neighboring village on a horse?

    Yes, if you had the use of the horse (breaks into off-key rendition of "Widdicombe Fair"). Horses have much higher running costs than bicycles, so there would not be all that many of them around, and those that there were would have work to do, and need their rest after working. "No, my son, you can't have the horse to go to the dance, and I've already said the same to your older brothers."

    But a young man in steady employment might well be able to afford a bicycle, ans could certainly afford its upkeep.

    Wrt the main thread: 1968: first computer, a roomful of cabinets (Elliot 503) at University, about as powerful as my first personal computer some years later. But it changed my life; in particular by giving me my first look at what was to become my career.



    Many of the things I could say have already been said, so I won't bother with my own repeats, but there are a few that seemed not to have been touched on.

    IRC: you could chat, with people, at any time, about anything! They didn't get bored of it, or want to play football instead. I think I first got on IRC around 1997, at first through a telnet interface to Undernet, later directly with ircII.

    CD-recorders: perhaps not very rational, but being able to write CDs felt far more first-class (in a programming sense) an access than being able to record tapes. It also meant that one could easily make backups and copy music, but I think the groundbreaking thing for me was how one could record their own stuff with the computer and write a CD with it. Sadly I don't think I can recall the first one I had, but I suspect it came relatively late, around 2001 or so.

    GNU/Linux: more specifically, Debian 1.3.1. What made the difference is this was the first multi-tasking-capable OS I ever got to use. You could write ^Z and bg, and the task would keep running! You could press alt-f2 and you got another console! This stuff was utter magic at the time. Same thing for multi-user: I remember setting up my own IRC server on it, or getting people to log in and use talk or write. 1997 or 1998 I think.

    P2P: I think the first p2p program I got to use was Gnutella. It had its limitations, but it opened up such an amazing space of possibilities for me. Because of my faulty IO I can't read printed books, and must OCR them instead (or get them in Braille). P2P meant the biggest qualitative change in my life when it comes to accessing culture and the written word, probably more so than the Web if I must be honest.

    Some of the tech that has most affect my life is probably quite unique because of my dissability. For instance, when I got a portable notetaker with voice, I could start taking notes or writing work in class without having to bang a Braille typewriter, and also waste my time in other ways like writing short stories in maths class ;-) Or, when software voice synthesis became good enough, certain possibilities opened up like using a laptop without having to carry a hardware voice synthesizer as well. But I doubt those would be of much interest.


    Some things niot mentioned so far:

    Pacemaker: 2007, at the tender age of 46. This didn't change my life from what it was, it just preserves it for longer.

    Scuba gear: 1995, age 35. Not something I bought, just something I used on holiday, but something I wish I'd done more of. So perhaps it didn't change the way I lived my life, just the way I thought of the world.

    Decent hi-fi: 1993. Again, something I wish I'd been able to afford earlier and that changed my perception of the world rather than the way I lived.

    Moped: 1977, Age 16. I lived in a small village, went to school 17 miles away and had no friends locally. Transport = freedom.

    Air travel: 2000, age 19. My granddad left me a few hundred pounds when he died, which I spent on a transatlantic air fare. I hitch-hiked around the USA for a few weeks. Nowadays air travel is commonplace; it wasn't when I was growing up.


    Wacom tablet, age 36. Mobile phone, age 33 - not that I had one yet, but it was starting to become impractical not to. Flatbed scanner, age 27. Internet, age 26. DTP software, age 19. Technical pens, age 16. Photocopier, age 15. VCR, age 13. Double cassette deck, age 12. Central heating, age 12. Radio alarm clock, age 11. Headphones, age 10. Carbon paper, age 9.


    Reel to reel tape recorder - age 13 I was just wowed by the power to record music, conversations, everything. Cassette tapes a decade later were way better, but did not have the same initial impact as that old machine.

    Texas instruments TI 57 programmable calculator. ~ age 23 I had used a Sinclair Scientific calculator since my last year at university. But the power of being able to program a device was awesome. I finally "got it" about how to program with this device, something an incompetent university professor had failed to do 5 years earlier.

    ZX-80 - age 26 My first "computer". I soldered it together myself. Of course it ran so hot you could fry eggs on it. It was really a toy which I abandoned a few years later for an Apple II - something I could actually do some real work on.

    VCR ~ age 27 Finally I was able to time shift tv, watch movies and do my own video editing.

    Cell phone ~ age 36 The power to make and receive calls from anywhere, even while in a car was a major change in my way of using a phone. I now use an iPhone, and it is clear that the power to use the internet while mobile is going to be another major change in lifestyle.


    Python, 2007-2008; it really started happening for me with Wesley Chun's Core Python Programming, whereupon I began to remember chunks of stuff I learned at a bizarrely early age with BASIC on the Spectrum and PCW. My copy is sitting on a chair nearby, like a cat.

    Dave Berry is right about tpt; I grew up in a Dales village and a night out in Leeds was a major event involving much planning.


    Since,in my old age,I find my self "in" Retail the Bar Code Scanner has made a big difference in my life! The downside is that enables the myth that stores get what they need when they need it. At least in small town USA they use the stores as warehouses:(


    Age 13 (1975) - ICL 4/74 mainframe computer access at Exeter Uni. It was supposed to be a 1 week "taster", but I could pass as a (very) young undergraduate and broke the "security" (ha!) pretty quickly.

    I think that technically made me a "hacker", but all I did was write some rather crappy games.

    Subsequently doing stuff with computers has kept me fed and clothed for the last 25 years.

    Other than that, too many shiny things to count, but none quite as significant as those first stolen CPU cycles.


    I thought of including "scuba gear", for it certainly changed my life (age 36), but Charlie was asking about new inventions you remember the world without. Bicycles and scuba regulators certainly existed before I started using them.


    I thought of including "scuba gear", for it certainly changed my life (age 34), but Charlie was asking about new inventions you remember the world without. Bicycles and scuba regulators certainly existed before I started using them.


    Ah, when I was eight, I spent the summer in a gifted & talented program at the University of Washington where I learned to program their giant computer and how to type on a paper tape machine without making a mistake.


    The sega megadrive in 1990 changed my life due to staying up all night, fuelled by drugs trying to complete games like sonic the hedgehog....things haven't changed much since....just the fuel....instead of drugs it is my kids taunts of "have I done anymore on the zelda game yet" on the wii.....Yeah gaming consoles changed my life, puzzle solving unputdownables....I read just to chill out.


    16. Brand new car: never. I've never owned one, and probably never will.

    Surely, once you have achieved (more) fame and fortune, you wouldn't be seen in a used Ferrari? Consider your image, I beg of you.


    Donald, I wouldn't touch a Ferarri, used or new, with a barge-pole: I know my limits. I've only got 50% of the visual field in my right eye, and my left eye's fovea is interestingly scarred, so while I'm legal to drive, I take longer to scan my visual field than most folks.

    I currently drive a 14 year old Volvo estate -- defensively. In a short while (months to a couple of years) I expect it will be replaced by a 2-5 year old Volvo estate. If the contents of a mysteriously-still-liquid bank landed on my head, the outcome would probably be a new Volvo estate. Possibly with an "R" after its model number, if I was feeling reckless.

    (But for me to buy a new car of any kind would imply that I literally had more money than I know what to do with -- when you drive a new car off the dealer's forecourt you can kiss goodbye to 15% of the sticker price from sales tax alone, never mind the first year's depreciation.)


    Being only 13 years old, I find this article very interesting. At first I thought, "I'm so much luckier to have always had this technology", especially because people my age can now figure practically any piece of electronic equipment you throw at them (granted, everything is labeled and follows some sort of an outline). However, I thought about it, and I now realize that it would be much more interesting to see an exciting progression, rather than have personal technology stay pretty much stagnant. OK, well, not stagnant, but the changes aren't so dramatic. So my time line would go something like this: internet: my birth traveling on an airplane: age 2, I believe watch: I probably had my own at age 5 (you know, a little disney-type thing) handheld video game: age 7 first pda: I had a working toy one that had all the functionality of a real one, but that I forgot the password to, at around age 8 cd player: age 9 gameboy: age 9 first computer: age... hmmm, well I suppose I didn't own this but I only shared it with my sister, so I think around age 9 first cell phone: age 11 first aim screename: age 11 mp3 player: age 11 fist touch screen cell phone: age 13 game console: age 13 (the wii)


    In 1982, at the age of three, I started reading. I have not stopped. It is the activity by which my life is defined, no matter how the words get to me. There will never be enough words to satisfy my brain.

    First computer; the Amiga 500, which made me a gamer at the age of 8. New Zealand Story, James Pond, FA-18 Flight Simulator (in which it was possible to fly under the Golden Gate bridge while holding down the fire button on 20mm cannon) and a really great version of Space Invaders are what I remember most vividly.

    I got a real computer in 1992, an IBM XT (yay, Alleycat! Sopwith!), and connected to the few BBS's that were around in Canberra (Australia) at the time. But when I started hearing about this Internet thing, I had to get online. We couldn't afford it until 1995, but I certainly made up for lost time. I spent something like 16 hours a day, most of my waking hours in other words, online during weeks-long bouts of utter absorption in the electronic realm. Usenet and MUDS were my addiction, and I became a minor figure in the politics of the time around my 18th birthday, when I defaced the opposing party's website. (The Libs, of course.)

    Looking back, the Internet has been the most influential piece of technology in my life by far. For someone addicted to reading and to mind-expanding ideas, it is a never-ending flood of high-quality interesting stuff.

    I just wish I'd given a little more thought to how those Amiga programs worked, and perhaps become a coder from an early age, instead of the belated scurry I'm engaging in now to actually try and earn a living.

    Cheers all!


    Zuzu: a point that might not be obvious to you is that all these technologies used to cost a lot more, back in the day. Electronics is getting cheaper -- deflating -- by around 10% per year. Not only has inflation halved the buying power of a given unit of currency since around the late 1980s ($10 in 1989 money is worth about $20 today), but the devices themselves have gotten cheaper -- a crude PC-XT clone in 1986 cost about US $2500-4000, without extras like a colour monitor or a printer. (A Macintosh Plus with an original LaserWriter would set you back the thick end of US $10,000.)


    While I've had may of these things, few of them have been transformational. They came in gradually: I got to use much of my parents' (basic) audio kit before I had any of my own; I used my father's manual typewritter before I bought one of my own, and so on.

    An electric typewritter with carbon ribbon (1981) made a lot of difference. I used it in preference to nroff for two years at university, because the quality was much better than the dot-matrix printers that students got to use, and I didn't have to fight for it.

    Computers came to me gradually: BBC Micro in 1982, disk drive and printer for it in 1983, an Amstrad PC1512 in 1986, I think. Again, the HP deskjet 500 made a lot of difference; not nearly as much as the laser printer thereafter.

    The first modem changed everything, of course. 1992. I plugged it in and it just worked. Wireless broadband for web-in-bed is the latest thing, and I don't know how it will change my life yet. But it isn't as transformational as the change from no connection to some connection.


    The rate of change has slowed. Temporarily I hope, new things are fun. The computers I work with now are basically the same as the ones I worked with fifteen or twenty years ago. There are bells and whistles added, and they are a heck of a lot faster, but that's so far been a huge dollop of quantitative change, not qualitative change. the qualitative change came with computers small enough to carry around, and networking fast enough to look at pretty pictures. And we had all that by the early 1990s. MP3 saves changing CDs if you are that way inclined. Cable TV has more channels than it used to. OK, the HTTP-based Web is easier to use and much much shinier but you could get already get an awful lot done with FTP and telnet. A car is still a car, a train is a train. Phones have been utterly removed and replaced by computers pretending to be phones - but they pretend well enough that no-one notices.

    My own attempt at a list:

    Book - sometime in my first weeks of life I suspect. Books are technology.

    TV - round about 1960 aged about 3. It would be futile to say that it didn't change the way I lived.

    Reading - 1961, age 4. It must be weird not to be able to read. I vaguely remember learning to read in my first term at school, in the September and October before my fifth birthday. My Mum says that I could already read a bit before I went to school but I don't remember. By Christmas I was reading books with real stories in them By the end of the school year I had read every one of the books in our not-very-well provided classroom. By the end of the year after I had read every one of the books in our not-very-well provided infant school, including what were supposed to be the textbooks for the two years above me. (I never read all the books in the junior school, not because they had much of a library, they didn't

    BCG vaccine - about the age of six, maybe in 1963. Around half my Dad's male relatives died of TB and related complications. We haven't defeated the disease entirely (yet!) but we banished it from this country for five decades. Its back now, but we're working on it.

    Fridge - maybe age 7 or 8, so perhaps 1964. The youth of today have no idea of how we used to eat on 1950s and 1960s council estates. I was at secondary school before I knew what a pizza was (genuinely)

    Microscope - birthday present, can't remember which birthday, maybe I was 10? Assume the "gosh" and the "wow". I have two binocular microscopes now, one high-power, one stereo. Due to personal incompetence and disorganisation I have made little use of them over the past few years. But I'm getting back to them

    Cable TV - 1967 aged 10. After we'd moved to the centre of Brighton, like most of our neighbours we got cable TV through Rediffusion because the broadcast reception was so bad. We had the ordinary broadcast channels, though we could get both the London and the Southern ITV and I think some radio stations as well. Not really a life-changing difference, just posted here because you sometimes meet people who think that there was no cable TV in Britain before the 1980s.

    Glasses - probably around the age of 11, maybe in 1968 or 69, during my first year at grammar school. I think I had had glasses as a kid but I got out of the habit of using them. I think I never really realised that I was short-sighted before. It makes sense, not being able to see things that are further away.

    Salbutamol, AKA Ventolin, in a dry powder inhaler - probably 1969 or 1970, aged 12 or 13. It might have saved my life and it certainly made it a hell of a lot easier. Though by the end of my teens I'd more or less outgrown asthma entirely. I haven't had more than half a dozen asthma attacks and a few weeks of wheeziness since. Though I was pretty bad this weekend because of dust raised by tidying the flat.

    Real binoculars - probably around the age of 13, maybe around 1971. Though I had had a small telescope before, and some toy bins. Now I could see birds as well. I have since been laughed at for using binoculars to identify trees - but it works.

    typewriter - perhaps aged about 13, 1970 or 71. A psychologist I used to have see years earlier said it would be a good idea to learn to type. They were right. I got given a small second-hand portable mechanical typewriter (might have been a cast-off from my Dad's office) then a few years later a "portable" electric (to big to part though) then for a wile in the early 1980s I used a great big old mechanical thingy that I once did a 12,000-word fanzine on in a sitting. Since then no-one has had to put up with my evil handwriting, except for exam-markers. Not even me if I don't want to. And I DID get typing lessons at school, despite being a boy, and older than Charlie..

    Beer - 1971 aged 14. OK not new technology, but new to me. I must be just about the oldest person in the country to have bought beer in a bar in old money.

    Computer programming - 1973 aged 16. Simple BASIC stuff sent off to local college to be run. Yes it probably rotted my mind.

    Computer of my own - 1981 aged 24. Second hand TRS-80.

    bicycle - 1982, age 25. New to me. I never cycled as a child. It always looked like hard work, and would probably have been near impossible because of asthma I suppose. But I took it up as an adult and I lived it. Can there be a better way to travel for fun than taking a bike on the train?

    Video recorder - 1984, age 27. Maybe surprisingly late. Did it change my life? Yes, in a little way, because it now became possible to "read" a film or TV program the way you read a book. Famous Film People and professionals like directors, producers, editors, had always been able to interact with films at private showings or on the edit desk. Us punters had to take them as they came, as a "dramatic production" but controlled by the makers. Cheap home videotape makes film criticism possible for the rest of us.

    email - 1985 age 28. Working for Big American Corporation and using Profs. Within a few weeks the number of emails I sent and received per day vastly exceeded the number of phone calls, and its stayed that way ever since

    Computer of my own that actually did anything worth doing - 1987 aged 30. Again rather late. Amstrad PCW8512. Bought with money received as expenses (honest guv!) for my contributions to a book by David Pringle (between that and a single book review in New Scientist, I am a published author, just...)

    Modem at home - 1988 or 1989, for work. It was strange sitting in our kitchen with our new baby (who now runs cons...) and chatting to colleagues in Houston or New York.

    TCP/IP - 1990 aged 33, Yes, Virginia, it is technology. And we were late to the party having used Netware and IBM SNA. We changed our work network to tcpip, and suddenly there was a clear path from my kitchen to the rest of the planet. Just like it says on the tin.

    CIX account - 1990 aged 33, though I'd used someone else's account the year before. Why didn't I get into this online networking stuff earlier? Went to CIX to find out about something, noticed there was an SF conference, joined it, and found I knew about twenty of the members already (some of whom have already posted on this thread)

    Proper real CD player with decent speakers - 1994 aged 37. I know it is very late. I bought it the day after I moved out from the flat I shared with my then wife (and I live in again now, though she doesn't). She'd more or less left me for another bloke over three years earlier but we'd struggled on in the same flat because, well for all sorts of reasons that I have no intention of writing about in public. I suppose it was that that changed my life, not the stereo, but the stereo certainly helped make things a little better. Though not with my bank.

    Mac ibook, 1999, age 42. I'd been using computers for well over twenty years but this is the first one that really was easy enough to use so that I just used it and never bothered to learn all the techy ins and outs. I still can't write apple script and probably never will find out how to. Seeing as how they brought out System X and now I can use any language I want on my Macbook.

    Digital camera - 2000 aged 43. Now I can pretend that my habit of walking aimlessly round the grotty bits of London and other cities is in fact perfectly respectable Photography.


    the single most influential piece of technology for me is the soft contact lens. the kind I put in when I've finished brushing my teeth in the morning, and throw away at night before climbing in to bed and opening whatever book I'm reading. I can barely see past my nose without them, but with them my vision is 20/20. after wearing eyeglasses from an early age it's a joy to see the world without the artificial frames.

    the technology I'm waiting for is the space elevator. or wormhole generator. or warp drive. the usual dream technologies.



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    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on February 23, 2009 5:50 PM.

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