My dad got a levitating lightbulb for Christmas. Hovering inside a magnetic field above a wooden base, the lamp slowly spins, suspended in midair, fully lit, as if plugged into a socket. Everyone says the same thing when they first see it: “WOW!”
Less than 30 years ago, this was the kind of accessory you might have spotted in the background in a sci-fi movie. I imagine if you had showed this to someone in the 1950s, there’s a reasonable chance they might have passed out or thought you had some kind of telepathic powers. Yet here we are, able to casually buy a floating lightbulb for less than a hundred bucks on Amazon.
On a day-to-day basis, technology always seems to progress slowly. The new iPhone is only slightly better than the last one. The next car looks almost like the last. On a life-to-life basis, however, technological progress is incomprehensibly fast. Science-fiction becomes science-factum faster than we can digest it.
My grandparents both learned stenography. You might know it as shorthand. In essence, they had to learn another language, complete with its own alphabet and symbols, to be able to write down everything someone says in real-time. “But that’s all gone,” my grandma said. There’s no need for it anymore.
Nowadays, you can record any conversation on your phone. If you upload it to Youtube, they’ll even automatically generate a transcript for you. No note-taking needed. No typing. No stenography. From someone’s mouth to readable text in a matter of minutes — and that’s just one of thousands inventions my grandparents have witnessed in their lifetime.
My grandparents do fairly well with new technology. My grandma now sends voice messages. My grandpa uses Word to write his newspaper articles. But it’s easy to see — and, honestly, totally understandable — that some things have passed right by them. Like floating lightbulbs, perhaps.
Look around your living room. Think about the history of some of the items you now take for granted. Think about what it took to turn them from science-fiction into science-fact. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, and it’s okay if, sometimes, the height makes us feel dizzy.