Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
 
Life on Mars

I've been watching Life on Mars on DVD lately. That would be the original British series from the BBC, the U.S. remake will only come out in September. The series is about a policeman having an accident in 2006 and waking up in 1973 in the same city, with some ambiguity of whether he is dreaming all this in a coma, or whether he really went back in time. The main theme is the culture shock of the guy who is used to policing in a modern, CSI-like police culture being thrown back into a 1973 police department right out of Dirty Harry. But what interested me even more is the stark difference in every-day technology between now and one generation ago.

Being thrown back into 1973, the detective has some difficulties to go through life without computers and mobile phones. Getting results on a fingerprint takes two weeks, searching for files involves dusty store rooms and boxes, and the TV in his apartment is still showing some shows in black and white. Video recorders weren't invented yet, nobody had personal computers, and of course video games didn't exist yet. Music was still stored on vinyl discs, or on magnetic tape, and his colleagues from 1973 are mighty skeptical when the time-traveler detective starts using a tape recorder to record witness statements.

As the title, taken from a Bowie song, suggests, living in 1973 feels like living on a different planet. And then it struck me that I was 8 years old in 1973, and lived through all this rapid development from a low-tech world into a high-tech world. It wasn't another planet, it was just half a lifetime ago. My dad bought us a "video game console" in the 70's, but the only thing is played were a few variations of Pong in low resolution (the "ball" was square) and just two colors: black and white. I got my first "personal computer" in the early 80's, a ZX81 with 1 kilobyte of RAM, and there were text adventures and even low-res versions of Space Invaders playing on it. At university I was playing games like Kings Quest in 16-color CGA and 320x200 resolution, at home I had the graphically more advanced Amiga 2000 which supported up to 640x512 resolution if you didn't mind the heavy flickering of the interlaced mode. My first "MMORPG" was LPMUD, played on a green mono-color screen of a university mainframe computer on telnet, the HTTP of the World Wide Web didn't exist yet.

We've come a long way since then, and now all this technology is taken for granted. I'm considered a Luddite because I keep my mobile phone switched off, and only use it rarely for calling people. Everybody else doesn't appear to have a problem with the concept of being available on the phone 24/7. I haven't got a PDA yet, my agenda is a printout from my calendar. I didn't buy any of the current generation of video game consoles, I'm still using a PS2. Only my PC and internet is pretty much high end, although there are already countries where my 6 MB broadband would be considered "slow". And seeing how much technology changed life in the last 35 years, I wonder how it will be in 35 years, if I'm still around then. People will probably look at me strangely when I reminisce over ancient technologies like mouse and keyboard then. :)
Comments:
The trick to not "being available 24/7" is knowing when to answer.

You can leave the cell phone on all the time and simply choose not to answer it if the caller is unknown or someone you don't want to be bothered with.

Then people you care about can still reach you 24/7. Maybe too simple of an answer if you want to hold onto your cell hatred for other reasons (style, stubbornness, distance to chargers). But it does work.
 
Hope you enjoy it, I definitely think it's one of the best TV shows the UK has done in ages
 
There's definitely some parallels between our experiences Tobold. Like you I was eight in '73. My first computer, purchased in 1981, was a Vic20 and several years later I bought an Amiga 1000. However, I didn't MMO until Asheron's Call and didn't discover the WWW until the mid nineties.

I still marvel from time to time about how much has changed in my 43 years. My Dad didn't have the greatest health and spent a lot of time in hospital over the years. In his later years he had both a heart attack and a stroke - and it's amazing what the doctors were able to do with conditions that only a few years earlier would have had much more severe immediate consequences.

If I live according to the law of averages, I should get another 35 or so years. It will be interesting to see what transpires over that time.
 
You youngster Tobold :) (I was nine in '73)

Will our lives change by as much as the generation before us I wonder? My father was born in 1913. Although the technologies were just being invented he had no knowledge of cars or planes or electricity or any modern technology when he was a child. I remember him admitting to me that the first time he saw a black and white movie as a teenager he believed there were real people up there. He died in a world of flying machines and universal car ownership where electricity had become as vital as water and the internet had already begun.
 
I remember my father buying a Sinclair calculator in the 70's. It had a black screen, only basic + - / * functions, and cost a fortune.

My first computer was a Spectrum, which I decided I had to have after playing Elite on a friend's.
Not sure when that was, maybe 1982.

The first game I played on a mainframe computer was Leather Goddesses of Phobos, which also came with a Scratch and Sniff card.

Life on Mars was followed by Ashes to Ashes, with a woman in the lead role.
The police characters are closer to those in The Sweeney than Dirty Harry.
 
I turned four in '73.

We had a B&W TV and I see you could make out colors from different shades of grey, or maybe it was just my over-active imagination ;)

My first PC was a Commodore Vic20 which I got second-hand when all my friends had C64s & Amigas.

I keep my cellphone on vibrate, constantly, not just when I don't want to disturb others around me. Like notmercury said, I just choose who I wish to talk to; if I don't recognize your number, I won't answer. If I'm in a restaurant or a business meeting, I won't answer unless I know the caller AND I know the call is relevant to my current situation (i.e. business related).

Tobold, I'd heard Europeans were a little more considerate than Americans & Australians when it came to cell phone usage. Aussies & Yanks seem to think it's ok to answer your phone in a crowded restaurant, and will even continue talking while ordering at a coffee bar, etc. The more you talk, and the louder, the more important you must be.

Which makes me, an Australian-American, an anomaly when it comes to my cellphone habits :P
 
*edit to prior comment*
2nd sentence, "I see" = "I swear"
 
I would imagine in the next 35 years that we will all be connected 24/7 and a doctor will be on my doorstep telling me that my body informed the hospital that I'm showing signs of a possible heart attack next week. Not to worry, though, as the hospital already told my body how to create the medication I needed. The doctor was only there to notify me in person because I hadn't checked my bio feeds in a month and my kids knew about it last week.

How strange it would seem to explain to someone living in that world that I had to dial into a BBS board to grab a text file telling me what phone number to dial to play Legend of the Red Dragon...
 
on the bus yesterday I knew the man in front of me had a mc chicken sandwich for lunch and was visiting his grandmother that evening. Am I sherlock Holmes, no he was just talking loudly on his phone.

People really don't care about privacy these days, thats the only thing I fear for the future. Will every detail of our lives be monitored and recorded willingly?
 
@baskx Just remember in 1950 they predicted everyone would be driving flying cars and housework would be completely automated.

Doubt we'll be wirelessly connected as you suggest due to simple physics. they've already proved that RFID tags implanted in humans dramatically increase the chance of cancer. And it's no surprise. Water absorbs RF energy and constant exposure to any environmental irritant will increase your chance of cancer.

I'm sure in 35 years we'll have stuff none of us dreamed of today. And we'll all be wondering where the stuff we expected is.
 
@sam: Very true. Flying cars are still nowhere to be seen, but I do have robots that vacuum my house and mow my lawn. That's a start.

I don't think that the wireless monitoring is as far off as it sounds, though. We're already carrying cell phones that are constantly chatting with the towers. How hard would it be to fit a bluetooth receiver to a sensor that reads your vitals. Scratch that, it's already here. Add a couple more sensors and the right chip and there's a device to read biorhythms and brainwaves (in the future).

See, I didn't even think that what I wrote already existed until I googled it. That says two things to me: (1) Most of the amazing things that technology is already doing probably aren't widely known, and (2) Since this already exists, I have no clue what will exist in 35 years.
 
"The Law of Accelerating Returns
by Ray Kurzweil

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense "intuitive linear" view. So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century -- it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). The "returns," such as chip speed and cost-effectiveness, also increase exponentially. There's even exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth. Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity -- technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light."

http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0134.html?printable=1
 
my point was simply that in spite of whatever breakneck changes in technology that what we assume will happen may or may not.

It's fun to sit back and speculate but all it takes is one event or technology that you have never thought of to completely change everything.
 
LORD and Usurper were both games I ran on my BBS, on my uber fast 386SX25 with a whopping 1024K of extended memory and spacious 40 meg HDD.

But remember text adventures like Wishbringer? That one came with a glow in the dark wish stone.

Who could forget Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? I still have my pair of totally working danger detecting sunglasses and Dont Panic button.

So much fun
 
Some very very interesting insights on our technological future which was on TV last night here in britain.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/page/item/b008bsy9.shtml?q=visions+of+the+future&start=1&scope=iplayersearch&version_pid=b008brv1
 
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