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Bonnie Brown: Journey from the Transistor Radio to the Digital Age

Technology first came to me in the form of a transistor radio at the age of 13. How wonderful it was to listen to my music without being tethered to a radio with an electrical outlet! I could go outdoors and play the radio as loudly as I wanted—which wasn’t very loud back then. It was a feeling of complete independence. No matter that the radio signal was often fuzzy and there were so many commercials being read by someone who often sounded like a first-grader just learning to read. 
When I was in high school, our class visited the local bank to see a computer that took up an entire floor in the multi-story building.  That same computer today could be replaced by my smartphone.  
And speaking of independence, how about the telephone? I could come home from school and ring up the friend I had just left on the bus to continue the conversation, which might have long periods of silence because, let’s face it, we had pretty much talked ourselves out. It was just a cool thing to be on the phone.
My family’s phone (and there was only one!) was still on a “party line,” which meant that other households shared the same line. So you might pick up the phone only to hear a neighbor’s conversation going on. The polite thing to do was to replace the phone in its “cradle,” but, honestly, I admit to eavesdropping on many conversations. It was our close neighbors with whom we shared the party line. Usually, the conversations were brief and not very interesting. That may have been the very first evidence of “stalking.” 
Then came the cordless phone. Talk about freedom! I remember my sons walking and talking, talking and walking, indoors and out at least as far as the signal would allow. It was their best effort to keep their conversations from being overheard by their nosy mother. It was all for naught since living in a small town meant that I knew their classmates and friends and their parents. 
The next technology breakthrough came in the form of electric typewriters, which quickly morphed into “correcting” typewriters. No more carbon paper, white-out correction fluid and erasers. Nothing could improve upon that, right?
But then came computers! Who knew that you could abandon the almost effortless electric typewriters for a machine that completely revolutionized communication? You could type, rewrite, store, and retrieve on these amazing machines. 
Before I could tire of this new contraption, along comes the World Wide Web! How remarkable to have such a wealth of information available with just a few strokes of the keyboard. Entire libraries were available to you without ever leaving your chair. And online shopping quickly followed. Hello, Amazon! 
And now there is Facebook! I can readily see photos and activities of my friends, and more importantly, my children and grandchildren. Do my acquaintances really have that much actual drama in their lives? And why are they so willing and even eager to share this personal information with virtual strangers?
Yes, technology has brought about changes, many of which have greatly simplified and enhanced our everyday lives. But what can be next? Self-driving cars are on the immediate horizon, not to mention cross-country underground transports from coast to coast, and robotics of all kinds appear to be coming soon. And yet, with all the electronics at our fingertips, I often miss opportunities to engage with others—family members included—because of these distractions. And I am certainly a consumer of these new forms of technology. I consider a cell phone a necessity when I leave the house. My iPad is at the ready each time I sit down in my easy chair. My husband told me the other evening that he heard applause from Amazon employees when I picked up my device.
I know that, in the not too distant future, my grandchildren will tell their children and grandchildren about “back in the day” when things were more challenging. We heard from our parents that they had to walk three miles to school, eat cold food for lunch, and received a piece of fruit in their Christmas stocking, along with a refurbished bike or a second-hand toy if they were lucky. I wonder what these yet-to-be-told stories will be like. 
I am so grateful for all the technology that makes life easier—that I can make a phone call, send a text, get driving directions, and on and on, simply with a small device held in my hand. I’m grateful for the modern appliances that certainly make life simpler. And I’m most grateful to have had my transistor radio!

Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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