When Science and technology were not considered magic.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. – Arthur C. Clarke

I would guess to a large portion of out society our current technology would seem like magic. You press a button and your car starts right up. No muss no fuss. Same for your television. Cell phones let you talk to whoever where ever and nearly everything has a digital and/or text screen read out. You can even take pictures and send them to who ever you want. Instantly.  Magic black boxes and you not only do not know what goes on inside, you do not have to know.  Food is something you buy at the supermarket or health food store. All prepackaged and mixed for you. Salads in a bag and vacuum packed meat. Milk in plastic containers. Most folks know as much about where their dinner comes from as they do about how their new sound system works. IE very little.

It of course was not always that way. In fact people were very quite knowledgeable about the technology of their day and where their food came from and how their Model A worked. They had to be. If your car broke down on the way to grandma’s place, you better know how to fix it or hope someone would give you a tow. Maybe some farmer with his horses. People had gardens even in the cities and some even had some live stock. A cow and/or a few chickens. My great, great grandmother would buy like chickens and keep them in the basement of her house for Sunday dinner. She would kill them, pluck them and prepare them. She lived in town in  Elyria Ohio.  I had a friend who lived in a subdivision outside of Phillie who kept chickens and sold the eggs. When a hen stopped laying, it became dinner.  Of course old hens are rather tough and gamy.

During the depression of the thirties this was necessary to provide food and during WWII with rationing as well.  People knew something about radio too. In fact it was a major big deal. Buying and building.  There were over a dozen different radio and technology magazines with articles about radio and projects one could build. Radio Craft, Radio News, Shortwave Craft, Experimenter,  Science and Invention,  Short Wave Radio and on and on.

After the war ended the fascination was just added to with television. And the build it yourself, do it yourself thing was really big. Housing was at a premium so people would buy land and build their own houses quite often.  Better Homes and Gardens would have house plans and you could order the blue prints from them.  Many manufactures of electronic equipment began offering kits. Heath Kit, Knight Kit Eico Kit. And the bigger names in stereo like Fisher, H.H. Scott, Harman Karden, Dynaco all had kit versions of the HI FI and then Stereo equipment.  Kids would buy old cars and fix them up and soup them up.  After the war there was a ton of surplus electronics to be had for very little money. Nearly any burg of any size had at least one surplus electronics store. And the big cities like NYC and Phillie and Chicago and LA had blocks of store with surplus and other radio parts and equipment. So people who wanted to listen to shortwave radio and could not afford a new one would buy some war surplus unit. Fix it up and/or modify it.


There were a bunch of new and re-branded magazines as well.  Radio Electronic,  Radio Experimenter, Radio Electronics, Electronic Experimenters, Tape Recorders And Stereo, Practical Electronics, Handy Mans TV Repair, Popular Electronics, Radio TV Experimenter to name but a few. Even into the early 1970s with transistors and early integrated circuits.  There were projects to radios and stereos and electronic ignitions and audio amplifiers.  And there were still kits for all of these.

Even when the micro computer came on you could buy the parts and/or kits to build your own.  Does anyone remember S100 Buss systems or Southwest Technical Products ?  With vacuum tubes you could see inside and actually look at the different parts that made it up. You would learn which tube made the picture flip or cause it to be weak or the sound to go out. Even with transistors you could see each individual one.  But all this has change. We have become very detached from that which we use and consume. Rarely do we get anything repaired and most things are not repairable. With throw them out and buy knew.  Very few people, except those in rural areas, have vegetable gardens and in some places there are deed restrictions against them as well as clothes lines. And forget about having any live stock unless you own a farm. And most farms are now owned or leased by agribusiness.

We have become in the last 40 years or so increasingly detached form that with we use and consume. The connection between our lives and our environment has become less and less apparent and more and more like magic to many people. I was on a trip a number of years ago whit a couple of friends. One of which grew up on a farm and the other in the city and suburbia. We were traveling through hog country in NC  the the city guy wanted to know what silos were for. We had to explain to him that they were used to keep feed in to feed you live stock during the winter. We also had to show him why you really did not want to put the windows down in the van right then. He was clueless and I wonder how many are as unaware as he was.

Our wonderful technology has provide many convenient new ways doing what we want but more and more I see a lack of interest in how and why it does. People not only do not know as much about what is going on inside but also seem to not want to know either and this is kind of scary because it can make them more easily mislead.

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2 thoughts on “When Science and technology were not considered magic.

    1. cmaukonen

      Well this I can understand. What I have a hard time understanding is that there are a large number of people who do not want to know even the basic information and theory.

      And the evangelicals total rejection of science.

      There were a couple of movies out a while ago for the evangelical crowd. One was called Image of the beast. They were about a time in the future when the so called anti-Christ comes and requires everyone of reject Christianity and be branded in some way. If the refused, they were executed by beheading on a guillotine. And there are a large number of these people who actually believe this crap. I mean a total regression back to the 16th and 17th century here.

      OY

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