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The Time of Your Life

From a technological perspective, when would you have liked to have been born?

As I alluded to last month, even though hydraulic technology as we know it today has been around for about 100 years, the greatest growth occurred following WWII. Many of today’s fluid power manufacturers—and Hydraulics & Pneumatics—were founded during this time. These people were true pioneers of our industry, and it would’ve been quite an adventure to witness all this innovation.

To expand on this idea, if you could have been born at any time in history, when would that be? This was a topic of discussion with a younger colleague. I said 1900 would’ve been a good year. Being born then, I would’ve witnessed the birth of aviation, the dawn of automobiles, and been a young man during the boom of the 1920s.

Life in the early part of the 20th Century was without radio and television. If you had lived in the country—as most people did back then—there was a good chance you wouldn’t have had a telephone and maybe not even electricity. Imagine all that change happening in your lifetime. Movies would’ve graduated from silent to sound and, eventually, to color.

By the time I reached the age I am now, only the largest organizations would’ve had computers. These machines were the size of a small garage, yet able to perform only the most basic functions at a snail’s pace. But they helped put Alan Shepard into space and John Glenn into orbit—quite a far cry from what I would’ve seen as a child.

Of course, I asked my colleague when she would’ve liked to have been born. Her reply startled me, primarily because her perceptions are so different from mine. Her world is all about smartphones, social media, and different types of messaging, so she thinks it would’ve been fascinating to have been born when I was, in the mid-1950s.

She found it hard to imagine going through high school with no digital technology. Our text messaging was writing notes on little pieces of paper and passing them through class. Our internet was libraries, encyclopedias, and directories. Long-distance telephone calls were for special occasions because they were so expensive. Writing letters took days for a response instead of seconds.

Imaging was done with film, where you had to wait about a week to see your results. Video was also done on film, and usually without sound. You could record sound on a magnetic tape, but only broadcasting stations could afford the expensive machines that could record audio and video on tape. Audio-video finally came to the masses in the early 1980s. Not too long after that came cell phones.

These analog cell phones would still be almost unrecognizable to my young colleague. Later cell phones could handle text messaging, while web browsing and early social media were reserved for personal computers. This all changed when the two technologies became almost inseparable.

Now we’re seeing much of this technology working its way into fluid power systems. And I can’t help but think how future generations will marvel at how primitive it all is.

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