What the transistor hath wrought
June 12, 2019
In the early 1980's I attended a lecture by Dr. Timothy Leary, the professor and LSD advocate. He said that the world has gone through a number of "ages:" the Iron Age, to the Industrial, and then to the Atomic Age. Leary said that we were already in the "Information Storage and Transfer Age."
And some years ago I was visiting with a friend, when we came to the conclusion that the transistor will make the deepest and most radical changes in world culture than have ever been recorded.
The transistor was patented in 1909 but found few applications until three physicists developed the "Field Effect Transistor" in 1947. This invention allowed the component to be used transistor radios and such. The printed circuit board (PCBoard) was born.
The PCBoard allowed engineers to miniaturize electrical circuits by eliminating the old vacuum tubes. Only those of us in our cursed dotage can remember when we had to wait for the radio, and later the television, to "warm up."
My cell phone is about the size and weight of a new kitten, but it has access to almost all of the philosophies and facts in the world - with the exception of Trump's tax returns. Gutenberg, with his printing press, made scientific and cultural knowledge available to the masses, but after centuries it still hasn't attinged the poorer human strata like the computer and cell phone have.
Literacy was expensive and difficult, while transistor-enabled computers and cell phones are now like the cardboard film cameras used to be. With an $80 phone, anyone can have almost the entire library of the world in his or her pocket. Other major scientific innovations (wheel, etc.) passed first to the strongest, and then down the social strata, often not reaching the very lowest.
The automobile wasn't available to the working classes until Henry Ford developed the assembly lines to lessen labor costs. Now, the computer-driven robots build almost the entire car, and are widely used for the same financial reason.
Artificial Intelligence and 3D Printing, along with Voice Recognition will make the more sophisticated computer chores available to the naive user, giving him a quasi-equal footing, or at least access to the same information as an MIT engineer. I can imagine what any devious individual could do with those things, one or two of which are available on the most basic smartphone.
Culturally, the major contributing phenomenon to social change is the communicative aspect of our phones and computers. When I was in Brazil during the early 1970s, it took me three days to call Montana – two days travel and a day in Cuiabá to make the call. Any more, when the phone rings it is as likely to be from Brazil as the U.S. and all I have to do is touch an icon to talk face to face with people in Coxipó do Ouro.
This, I think, is cheapening communication and contact with other humans. We take them for granted on a superficial basis, the energy in our voice being transmuted to one form of energy or another over thousands and thousands of miles. The constant communication and the facility of it lead many of us to take the interaction lightly and possibly, in turn, take the other in the dialogue for granted with time.
I notice that a lot of the ads on TV are cyber cartoon-like, because a good many of the post year 2000 babies are more familiar with computer games than they are with the human race. With the movement being so widespread and easy to obtain, many could end up in a high building with a rifle some day. In social matters, it could be said that "Every action has an opposite reaction," not, "equal and opposite," The good usually outweighs the bad in social movements, except for governments, of course.
But it was this very facility of interaction saved my life when I was in the hospital in Cuiabá. The people here would not even know that I'd become a defunct.
I noticed that the Brazilians don't sit and visit as easily as they did 40 years ago. Even at a bar table with a half-dozen youth, drinking beer, as soon as the conversation lags, they're all into their phones. It was so ubiquitous that I became resentful.
And it's the transistor that made it all possible, just two years after the first bomb which began the Atomic Age. To me, even with the wonders of internet communication and knowledge available to us now, the absolute best method to attain both is leaning on the back of a pickup, chatting with an honest person.