I am sure that the first Stone Age citizen who watched his neighbor cooking his dinner over this newfangled thing called fire shook his head and said, “Society’s getting too involved with these new inventions.”  I say this as one who is sitting here writing this column on a machine which I once would have said (and DID say, as a matter of fact) I would never have any use for.

    We have always been fascinated by the gadgets our fellow humans come up with, though we wonder sometimes if we really needed it as much as they say we do.  From the red light cameras watching us as a we drive to the cupholder we’re thankful for while stuck in traffic, we see dozens of innovations come into our lives, and wonder either why no one thought of it before or why someone thought of it now.

    At the turn of the last century, a reasonably new device called the picture postcard gave cartoonists the ability to discuss these new contraptions, considering their good points and their bad ones.  And not one of these cartoonists guessed that the eventual reality would far outstrip their fantasies

    The baby new year, of course, would have access to the newest mode of speeding onto the scene and doing away with his bearded predecessor.  The toy of geeks in garages, many automobiles were unique, with a “new model” meaning Uncle Pete decided to put cushions on the metal seats in that noisy buggy he made up last year.  Few could have guessed that in a few years, thousands of these contraptions would be on the roads, outnumbering horses, and lending speed to, say, the newlywed couple (Who are cheerfully taking their puppy with them on their honeymoon, and letting him ride shotgun.)

   Of course, some people in more of a hurry, like this Danish couple rushing to wish you a happy new year, found even speedier (and riskier) methods of travel.

    Communication technology was not neglected, even in the days when you not only couldn’t put a phone in your pocket, but often couldn’t get on in your house.  Lines were run first to places that needed phones—police stations, say—and central locations where anyone who needed to call could drop by.  (The general store, the post office…phone booths came along after a while.)  Of course, the idle rich could afford to do as they pleased, and the warnings against the phone as a cause of idleness abounded.

    The applications in romance were not neglected.  Making a date by phone had all sorts of advantages because your suitor at the other end of the line couldn’t actually see you.

    Then as now, of course, some people just could NOT keep their technologies straight.  And why COULDN”T you use a phonograph as a phone?  They SOUNDED alike.

    Of course, this was all over a hundred years ago, when people didn’t suspect how new technology might change our lives.  By the 1950s, for example, we were used to technological innovation, and had stopped making jokes about these new contraptions that….

    (This one almost made it into my file of “How Did They get Away With That?” jokes.)

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