Pepper Lim writes to his daughter about stories of old gadgets and bygone technological advances in games and devices, and cautions her about keeping up with the latest trends and gadgets.
You were born into a technology driven world. Technology is marvellously wondrous but can be unsettling at times. Everyone carries a high-tech gadget as part of his identity today. The latest gadgets cost a bomb, sometimes as much as an average person’s monthly salary.
When I was a child, I owned wind-up toys. Only the rich children owned toys that ran on batteries. Back then, I played with metal toys that dented and rusted if I was not careful with them. Later, plastic toys were introduced. Though they were cheap, I noticed the wheels of my plastic toy cars kept falling off. My toy fire engine had free spinning wheels so it could be pushed around and a winding pulley to raise or lower the crane arm. Ginger Ah Chek bought a wind-up racing car toy (see photo below) when he was in Primary School. It still works today!
Today, the toys children play with are very different from those I used to play with. Today’s toys are mainly electronic, very sophisticated and very expensive. Some of my 11 year old students carry the latest Apple iPhone.
Game & Watch
When I was in Primary school, I spent almost all my pocket money at the video games arcade. I lived through the Pong, Space Invaders, Galaxian and Dongkey Kong craze. Then Atari came out with a home console. We could not afford one so I spent every afternoon at Anthony Teoh’s house playing his Atari video games.
In 1980, my mother bought us ‘Game & Watch‘. My brother and I spent hours playing Parachute, Octopus and Popeye. Then, Nintendo released the Gameboy. Their hit game was Super Mario Land and Tetris. My mother would not buy us one because we were spending too much time playing games than studying. (You can play them here and here.)
As I write this article, games are being played on the Apple iPads, Android phones, Sony’s PSP and Nintendo 3DS. These hand-held gaming consoles are equipped with stereo sound, 3D capabilities, tilt sensors and HD screens. New gaming consoles and devices are announced almost every year. We have come a long way since the days of Game & Watch and its beep-beep-beep sound effects.
Betamax, VHS, Laserdisc, VCD and DVD
When I was a boy, we memorised the TV guide to not miss our favourite TV shows. You are probably watching TV shows on Youtube with your tablet.
In the 70’s, Sony released Betamax – a video recording machine. You could record your favourite TV shows and watch them over and over again. A while later, JVC released their own video recording machine called VHS. In the frenzy of fighting for market share between these two giant corporations, my father decided to wait and see which system would emerge the winner. In the end, the VHS format triumphed and owners of the Betamax had to buy a VHS machine in order to swap movies with their friends.
When I was a young man, I saw a repeat of this war. In the 1990’s, the market was flooded with a new technology called laserdisc. It replaced VHS. Movies were much clearer and the sound quality much better than the old VHS video tapes. Soon after that, the Compact Disc (CD) and MiniDisc were introduced to replace music cassette tapes (which in turn replaced vinyls). Then, the VCD came along. Which system would stay? Which would end up obsolete like the Betamax?
I predicted that the winner would be the CD because computer enthusiasts were already using it to store data too. I was right. When the public realised the CD could be used to store data, music and video, the other formats quickly faded away.
Today, VCDs and CDs are being replaced by DVDs, MP3 players, portable HDD and cloud technology. And, there are already replacements for these new devices too!
Technology Changes Rapidly
When I was a boy, we wrote letters and had pen pals. By the time I started working, every office was equipped with a fax machine. A few years later, companies were communicating with e-mails. Today, people have video conferences instead of travelling thousands of miles for business meetings. It is unbelievable how quickly technology has advanced.
I remember connecting to the Internet at 9.6kbps. Today, our home is connected at 4Mbps, over 400 times faster. My first computer, Sinclair ZX Spectrum had 8 kilobytes (kB) of memory and I played Pac Man and The Hobbit on it. Today, my ASUS notebook has 4 Gigabytes (GB) of memory; half a million times more! I wonder how much memory your notebook has?
The mobile phone is another rapidly evolving piece of technology. Take a look at the chronology chart on the right. We have come a long way since those ‘brick’ phones! Big brands have faded while new ones have taken over.
It is virtually impossible to keep up and own the latest gadgets. A month after you buy the latest gadget, it becomes old because another company would release an even newer gadget.
How Not To Keep Up With The Latest Gadgets (Without Looking Like A Dweeb)
When any new gadget is announced, it is with great fanfare and hype. Advertisers will tell you how cool you’ll look by owning one. However, these gadgets will burn a big hole in your pocket. Still, you don’t want to look like an untrendy dweeb walking around with an uncool gadget. So how can you differentiate between a ‘Betamax’ and a ‘VHS’? Here is my advice for buying any new gadget.
A gadget worth owning should have features useful to you. It should not just be dazzling but it should have dazzle that you can use and not just show off.
- Good gadgets should be able to last for at least 5 years without breaking or going obsolete. This is the reason I chose to buy an Android phone rather than an iPhone because Android is ‘open source’. This means, anyone can update the operating system long after the official updates cease. Also, I can add more memory when I need it by simply slotting in a bigger MicroSD card.
- Be patient and control your urges to buy a gadget on the spot. You can sometimes find even better bargains by keeping your ear to the ground. Talking to others about what you intend to buy can sometimes uncover things you previously didn’t take into consideration. I bought my ASUS notebook at Lelong.com.my when they auctioned it as part of their advertising drive. I paid 25% lower than the retail price.
- Never get the latest model, but the one before it. The price difference is usually substantial but the features are quite similar. For example, the best time to buy a Samsung S2 handphone would be after the Samsung S3 is launched.
- Never buy gadgets for the future or blindly guess what the future holds. Let the giant companies sort that out. It is better to wait and watch while different formats slug it out for dominance before making your choice.
- Try to buy it second-hand if possible. Using the Internet, you can search for used gadgets for sale. I bought my Panasonic Lumix LX-3 from someone who had just bought a new DSLR camera. She had used it for less than a year and had taken care of it very well. I paid half of what she originally bought it for.
- When buying second-hand gadgets, make sure the warranty is still valid in case of an unforeseen problem.
Dear Paprika, this letter is written in 2012. No doubt the examples I cite will long be obsolete by the time you are a young lady, but the principles remain. I can only imagine the wondrous gadgets that you will get to play with in your lifetime!
I hope you will follow my advice and not be taken in by the hype of new gadgets. You won’t become popular overnight nor will your friends like you more just because you have the latest gadget. Really.
Your loving father,