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New technology erodes and rebuilds

More and more things done by machine today

We have considered erosion and its pervasive influence a long time. But there are short-time influences, too.

How many tools or procedures can you name that have changed, some drastically, since your childhood?

I remember hearing a radio broadcast (pre-television) in which an older woman applying for a job had never heard of a fountain pen.

Are you old enough to remember them and the tricks of filling one?

Among the horde of new devices we use on a daily basis, it seems to me that one of the most dramatic is what has happened with the telephone.

Do you remember the days when you had to wind a crank to get a signal to a central operator to take your number and place your call for you? You asked, she answered, and then she placed your call for you.

Now, it all is done by punching little buttons, or even by touching a picture.

And then more and more things were added, all done by machine. And the telephone now provides services that were never dreamed of formerly, from recording data you may need to photography.

You can record music and other information and play them back with a quality and fidelity which would have been impossible only a couple of decades ago. You keep your calendar of appointments on your phone.

There probably are more things which would have been impossible just a few years ago.

The old systems are being phased out – a sort of erosion of the functions of the instrument.

Take cars. Now, they have systems that tell you how to get where you are going, machines which correct driving mistakes and atmosphere control.

There must be more that I don’t know of, for I no longer drive a car.

It’s replacing the car as we have known it, and a new breed of repairmen has emerged: Those who still can do repairs on an older model. It’s also has given rise to the old-car shows.

Nothing has replaced the horse, but his functions are no longer the same.

And so have some of the accompanying things: We no longer hear of a runaway, a terror of the past, but we have enough madcap drivers to replace that loss, if it’s a loss.

That only scratches the surface.

Consider the developments in medicine. For instance, robotic surgery. A small remote-controlled device inside a patient can do surgical things, eliminating the shock to the body of a large incision, plus many other wonders.

And the same goes on in every field.

Our activities are in constant flux, as is every other field in the world. It’s a form of erosion and rebuilding of our processes and activities, just as the earth we live on is in a constant state of flux. What a wonder it all is.

It’s quite a ride we are having.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,876th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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