By Roger Paradiso
Some say the digital age had its beginning with the transistor, which belonged to the analog age. Remember transistor radios? I remember walking around the neighborhood listening to WABC disc jockeys who played the top forty hits. Whether it was the Beach Boys or the Four Seasons, it was a special time. Now I walk with my phone and Apple Music app, and I am in the digital world playing disc jockey to unlimited songs on my phone. The difference is, I have to pay around ten dollars a month for that. During my youth the AM/FM stations were advertiser supported.
Many artists prefer listening to analog sound captured on some kind of tape, which they consider to be warmer, and which also captures the feel of a live performance with varying highs and lows, plus room ambience which can add pleasing as well as unwanted sounds.
Digital performance is preferred by some because of the crisp and clean sound, with low levels of noise and distortion. I asked Tim McCusker, who is a musician and friend, to describe how digital has affected the industry. “Before digital, a guitar player might have a tuning fork or pitch pipe. So, what’s missing now is the ear; whether you have a good ear or not isn’t important. Now a clip-on chip will tell you if the string is in tune… Sonar paved the way for auto-tune which helps marginal singers have hit records” (by keeping them in tune).
Others point to the computer chip, like the Motorola 6800 microprocessor chip that was used to invent the Apple computer. But more influential was the Intel 8080, which IBM used to create millions of personal computers in the 1980s. George Capsis was in the marketing department of IBM and remembers the days prior to the first PCs.
“The very first day I went to work for IBM I was told that I would tend a 705 computer that filled the showroom at IBM headquarters at 590 Madison Avenue near the corner of 57th Street. This monster machine was driven by programs written on stacks of punch cards, each offering only 81 characters and guided by circuit boards composed of vacuum tubes.
“At that time there was a popular fear in the press that computers would take over and run the world; and to address this concern I traveled up to Columbia University to the Watson Laboratory and sought out the director and asked, ‘Will we ever have a personnel computer?’ He paused and looked into the distance and offered ‘No,’ and then, ‘Oh, well, we may have computer- like devices in our thermostats.”
It is to be noted that IBM did not prevent other companies from using the Intel 8080 chip or the later Intel upgrades. Apple kept their chip to themselves.
In my opinion, these pivotal moments in time moved us toward the digital age, the greatest disruptor since the printing press. Slowly, but surely, we were moving from analog to digital, from the 1950s to today, where we are virtually all-digital. The revolution was won by digital, and I don’t like some of it. I wonder how many others feel the same way.
The digital revolution began to affect mass society in the early 1990s when almost 10 percent of us had a PC and a cell phone. It really took off near the turn of the 21st century. In the 2000s, when the Internet (and its accompanying machines) became more and more user-friendly, we woke up one day in the digital age—which began running our lives, good and bad. Seventy-five percent of the households and businesses in the U.S. had computers and cell phones. Little did we know it was the beginning of the end of the world as we knew it.
Here’s the Bad Stuff sprinkled with some sugar…
Where did privacy go? You can phone me, text me, email me, video me, photograph me, or track me (think FBI and police) at any moment. Have we forgotten what privacy means? Did we forget what in-person socializing means? You can speak to someone without seeing an ad jump into your head. You can take a long walk in the woods or on the shore without something digital producing sounds that constantly interrupt your solitude.
Despite thoughts of Pavlovian dogs hearing a bell ringing and reacting with a conditioned response, having a cell phone when your car breaks down is nice.
I wrote about pirates in the last issue. Hackers are a little different; they are people who look to steal information and to disrupt as well as to steal money. They may be terrorists also. Pirates generally want to steal content, usually creative, and sell it. I’m not suggesting that you should give up your internet or cell phone and live in a cage. Just know that at any moment you can be hacked if you are in a digital mode.
The good news: if you have internet security and keep a low profile you may never get seriously hacked. And stick to this one tip: if you don’t recognize the sender or feel at all that something is fishy, do not click or call. Send it to junk mail. If it is an important message, they will know how to contact you by letter or email, not with a call out of the blue. When in doubt, do not respond to a phone call or email.
Education: online classes and other things
The pandemic has taught us that online classes can work. Expect more of them and fewer live teachers. There are many wonderful things that can be shared in the digital age. You can save your family pictures and videos. But can you educate yourself and your children without being in a classroom with a teacher? And on the college front, will we pay those high tuitions for online experiences? Will we miss the collegial atmosphere and socializing? It would be a shame to miss out on playing with your friends in school and the memories that would last.
Are we Dumb or Dumber?
You can look up anything on the internet. It’s an instant library. But can you remember you wife’s cell phone number? Can you remember how to get somewhere without a navigation system? And can we remember what we learned without having learned it? Have we lost a certain kind of intelligence? A case can be made that we aren’t quite as street-smart as our parents.
Cell phones, laptops, and the Internet
Is it really a social network or is it just about marketing information? Have we given up too much? Do we go to movies and concerts to experience an event with an audience and a friend? Or are we happy to sit home and watch our computers or televisions alone most of the time? If you are introverted it’s the best thing since the DVD player, but if you are extroverted you may miss the good old days.
When I first started making some decent money my new Citibank location, their flagship, opened on 56th Street and Broadway. I joined. The service was impeccable, and despite long lines on Fridays, there were many tellers lined up in a row to speed you out of there with your check safely deposited. And you got a receipt.
Today you get a smaller bank with maybe one or two officers, one or two tellers, and a row of four to ten ATM machines. You can bank online wherever you are in the world. You can take pictures of your paychecks and send them via text or email to the bank and they are cashed. This is the digital world.
But I miss talking to my account officer. I don’t fully trust computers. Remember Hal in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?
I wonder how many times banks have been hacked and how much money they have lost. (I notice that banking fees keep going up.)
The digital age will pass too. Artificial intelligence and robots will make our lives simpler until they “think” they can replace us. See Hal again in Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
However, every action causes a reaction. People will rebel against artificial intelligence. Smaller and independent movie theaters will show old masterpieces as well as revolutionary new films. Cults of film, theater, dance, music, and other arts appreciators will pop up on college campuses and in the cities. The exhilaration of something new and exciting will kick the young and old in the pants. They will desire something new. As they say, everything old is new again.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”