Indistinguishable From Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
—-Arthur C. Clarke

concentration

I’m not sure what… but something today brought back a very old memory – and I’ve been thinking about it.

I’m guessing I was about eight or so, and that would make it 1965. I liked to watch the game show Concentration – Hugh Downs would have been the host. I especially liked the end of the puzzle, when the contestants had to guess the Rebus.

rebus

I have never been good at those things, and I think I enjoyed the frustration and release when a contestant was able to get it right.

At any rate, the moment I remember so vividly was when the contestant won a grand prize of some sort. With great blurry grainy black and white hoopla they wheeled it out to present it to the woman.

It was a videotape recorder/camera/playback combination. It was the size of two standup refrigerators. The camera (though demonstratively smaller than the studio units used on the show) was the size of a suitcase and seemed to weigh over a hundred pounds.

It seemed to take forever, but they managed to set the machine up and take a short segment of very bad quality recording of the woman that won the prize. She was standing there, shifting from foot to foot, and looking very uneasy – with that fake early-1960’s smile plastered on her face. The giant tape reels spun at a dizzying pace and after a bit more fiddling (this was live TV – they must have been brave to try and pull this off) the little black and white (I assume it was black and white – I surely wasn’t watching it in color) piece of the big-haired woman came up on the impossibly tiny Cathode Ray Tube almost lost in the maze of complex equipment.

Everyone cheered and the cat food commercial came on and that was that.

To this day, almost a half-century later, I remember how excited I was. Imagine! The ability to put your own moving images onto magnetic tape!

Then, equally strongly, I remember the internal backlash as I wondered what use something so large, unwieldy, and of such terrible quality would actually be. Where would that poor woman store the thing? It must have drawn an incredible amount of power (those huge cabinets concealed banks and banks of glowing vacuum tubes, no doubt).
My eight year old self felt the falling disappointment in technology.

Now, of course, I carry a card-sized device in my pocket which, among many other things, can take a high quality color motion capture with perfect sound, transmit it from my hand, and broadcast it all over the world where anybody that cares to (if anybody cares to) can watch it to their heart’s content.

Not only was that sort of technology unavailable in 1965, it was unimaginable. I know that was fifty years ago, but it doesn’t seem that long to me. Hell, Hugh Downs, the host of the show, is still alive. I’m sure he has a smartphone.

downs

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