Is technology passing you by?

Future Tense for Feb. 25, 2008

By Steve Welker

Depending on your age and memory, a “party line” is:

(a) A telephone line shared by several different families. Depending on the number and pattern of rings, you know whether it’s you being called. It’s considered impolite to listen in to other people’s conversations on a party line.

(b) A political organization’s doctrine. For example, the GOP party line might be “shrink government and reduce taxes.” Note: The Party line may bear no resemblance to reality and, as we've seen over the past seven years in Washington, often does not.

(c) An Internet site where you can announce your party and invite anyone who wishes to join the fun.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, cultural and technological references change with time. Some things I grew up with have no relevance to my sons' lives, because they never experienced them.

But what about the flip side? Aren’t there devices and technologies that are commonplace for today’s young people and unfamiliar — even mysterious — for older ones?

In 2005, the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which promotes inventiveness in teens, asked a panel of technology leaders to assemble a list “of 25 non-medically related technological innovations that have become widely used since 1980, are readily recognizable by most Americans, have had a direct and perceptible impact on our everyday lives and/or could dramatically affect our lives in the future.”

To my surprise, as I went through the list, I did not recognize some items. My oldest son, born in 1985, knew about and could describe every one including some listed only by their initials (I spelled out the meaning below).

Here’s the Lemelson-MIT list. Ask yourself, as you read it, whether you’re falling behind the curve of rising technology.

Top Technological

Innovations Since 1985

1. The Internet

2. Cell phones

3. Personal computers

4. Fiber optics

5. E-mail

6. Commercialized GPS (global positioning system)

7. Portable computers

8. Memory storage discs

9. Consumer-level digital cameras

10. RFID tags (radio frequency identification)

11. MEMS (microelectromechanical systems)

12. DNA fingerprinting

13. Air bags

14. ATM (automated teller machines)

15. NiMH, Li-O and Z-Air (advanced batteries)

16. Hybrid cars

17. OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes)

18. Display panels

19. HDTV (high-definition television)

20. Space shuttle

21. Nanotechnology

22. Flash memory

23. Voice mail

24. Modern hearing aids

25. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (short range, high-frequency radio)


Steve Welker is the editor of His e-mail address is

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