Fifty one years ago today, the crew of the Apollo 11 first stepped on the moon, just 65 years and 7 months from December 17, 1903 when the Wright brothers made the first ever powered flight from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA.
My grandparents were born before that first powered flight and lived to see men walk on the moon. Just thinking about that three pounds of wet cells that are our brains can contemplate, conceive and create out of raw materials heavier-than-air creations that can perform actual flight and in the span of less than a lifetime escape our planet and land on the moon.
Of course, in 1903, those who created these machines and the technology were standing on the shoulders of those who came before them in millenia past. Going WAY back, as in harnessing fire, to extracting and using metal, mythologies of men flying like birds as in the tale of Icarus, the invention of radio, radar, the discovery of oxygen and learning to contain it so humans could breathe under water or up in the atmosphere. And let’s not forget mathematics and the women of NASA – especially the black women who were the brains behind sending men to the moon and bringing them back safely.
So many discoveries that probably began as curiosities, things that no one could even imagine would lead to or become part of our life today. And this leads me to think about many of the ways technology has changed the way we live just in my lifetime.
I was born 4 years after the end of World War II. In primary school, we had a little newspaper made just for us youngsters called The Weekly Reader. I don’t remember much of what was in it, but I do remember news of a new thing called a computer that took up an entire room and could do calculations. Many telephones were party lines and I remember picking up the phone, telling the operator the number of my grandmother so we could be connected.
Typewriters were not electric yet and they had ribbons. Mimeograph machines were used in schools to make copies and for us folks at home there was carbon paper. As school progressed, the teachers at times requested that we type our papers instead of turning in handwritten homework.
In 1964, the World’s Fair was held in Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York. There were so many wonders to behold, and one of them was in the Bell Telephone exhibit – a phone of the future where you could actually see with whom you were talking. I remember the anxiety some of us had as to whether or not this was a good thing. We imagined receiving a call when we were not looking our best – horrors !!!
As time marched on, we saw progression in technology. In the original Star Trek television series, the crew of the Enterprise had communicators that could flip open and you could communicate with each other on the ground or even with your crew up in space. What fantastic science fiction that was !!! Now we have cell phones. What was once science fiction is now such a part of everyday life that we hardly think about it. And for people who say, “Why do we go up THERE when we have problems DOWN HERE,” well, without going “up there” you would not have the worldwide communications networks that we have now, nor would we have our GPS capabilities, thanks to the Global Positioning Satellites that are “up there.” And we have life-saving telemedicine, where we can consult with physicians thousands of miles away from a disaster or remote area.
In the meantime, other forms of communication have evolved greatly over time. In the 1960’s, I had a pen pal in Japan. Extra postage on the letter to make it go by airmail. Air mail envelopes were of thinner paper and so was the writing paper so it would weigh less. It took 4 days to go from Long Island to Kyoto and vice versa. And a PS here – if any of my readers is in Japan, or has connections with people there, I had an unsuccessful search for my former pen pal. Perhaps there is someone out there who can help.
I continued to be an avid letter-writer but the events of September 18, 2001 forced me into the age of the internet as far as personal communications were concerned. That was the start of the anthrax scare – people receiving envelopes in the mail with a white powder that turned out to be anthrax, with people becoming ill. A friend with whom I was corresponding in Vienna said they were concerned and we should communicate with email – and so, I finally came into the modern world and got myself an email address.
In 1998, when my son was 10 years old, I was part of a nursing delegation that visited two hospitals in Nepal to discuss our respective countries’ methods of treating neurosurgical and neurological conditions. During that time, I received a message from the cyber café near the hotel to call home. I panicked, thinking something had happened to my son. I placed a phone call and discovered he only wanted to hear my voice. That 20-minute call cost $100 USD, payable immediately to the hotel clerk.
Now, we can instantly talk with and even see one another by directly calling someone with our cell phones, Face Time, and send emails instantly instead of waiting days or weeks for mail to go each way. And in some cases, snail mail has not improved over time. More than 50 years ago, my letter took 4 days to go from New York to Kyoto. Currently, a paper letter going from my home in Colima to the United States takes anywhere from one month to three months, with an average of 6 weeks – IF it eventually gets delivered. God Bless DHL and FedEx, which costs a fortune, but the mail or package does reach its destination in a timely manner.
Since I am a retired nurse, I will also briefly touch on how technology has changed the medical field. When I entered nursing school in 1967, there was no such thing as CT scans, etc. To detect something such as a brain tumor, there was a test called a pneumoencephalogram (PEG for short). You’d sit in a chair, the doctor would do a spinal tap and extract a bit of spinal fluid. Then they would inject an air bubble, which would rise up to your ventricles in your brain and they would take x-rays. If your brain was atrophied, you wouldn’t feel a thing. If your brain was intact, it felt as if your head exploded, the most agonizing pain I had ever experienced, much worse than childbirth and kidney stones combined.
Gratefully with CT scans, PET scans, MRI’s and other forms of imaging, that barbaric test is no longer in use. You can see inside the body without having to cut it open to find or treat a problem.
Likewise, telemedicine is a blessing. In the past, x-rays were taken, the film was then developed and a radiologist would interpret it. The phrase “wet reading” comes from reading the film before it is completely dry. Now, x-rays can be transmitted digitally halfway around the world for consultations, when the patient is in a remote area, such as after a disaster, or a radiologist is not available at the time he is needed.
The final change that I will touch on is managing diabetes. In 1967, we did not test blood sugar. We would take a fresh specimen of urine, put a few drops in a test tube, add a few drops of Benedict’s Solution then hold it over an open flame. When the liquid changed color, we would compare it to a chart to see how much sugar was there and then calculate how much insulin to give. Over time, there were tablets to add (Clinitest and Acetest) instead of Benedict’s Solution, and more changes over time until we have the hand-held instant glucometer of today.
I could write a whole book solely on the changes that have occurred during my lifetime, but I am only writing a blog post for now. And so, I will leave each of you, whatever your age, to contemplate the wonders of the human brain and how it is possible to manipulate our world to bring us closer together and improve our lives and widen our horizons when it is used for the benefit of all persons everywhere. Teamwork and sharing knowledge and ideas will help make this a better world.