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Dick Tracy was ahead of his time

POSTED: July 24, 2010 10:00 p.m.

The words “video” and “audio” were not a part of the everyday vocabulary when I was growing up. In that time, TV stations relied on a network of lines provided by the phone company to get their network signal.

Quite often, some part of that would fail. The station would put up a slide that said “We are experiencing difficulty with the picture portion of our program. Please stand by.”

And stand by we did. We were sitting on the edge of our seat to see if Sgt. Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon were going to nab that pesky criminal. We knew they would, but we wanted to see it.

Televisions were often sold by furniture stores, because they were furniture. My mother and dad’s first TV set had a screen that was about 9 inches, but had a nicely finished wooden cabinet to house the giant tubes that made it work.

The next set was much bigger and included a hi-fi record player with an AM/FM radio. In those days, FM was largely dominated by stations that played instrumental music performed by orchestras. It had a nice wooden cabinet that mother regularly dusted.

The old set was sent to the basement. As a kid, we would often try to turn it on and get a picture on the grainy little screen. We thought it was almost a joke to have a screen that small.

Today, televisions are no longer furniture. They are picture frames. We have one of those thin TVs mounted above the fireplace.

I used to joke with my wife about leaving her enough money to get a nice oil painting of me to go above the fireplace when I’m gone. Now, my place is occupied by a TV. On any given night, you can see the housewives of some town, the 5-year-old beauty queens or a cooking contest above the fireplace.

That’s the big TV.

I also carry a portable device on my hip.  I think of it as a phone and e-mail delivery system. But the other day, someone was asking me about watching video on the little box.

If I thought that 9-inch screen of my childhood was small, the 2-inch screen I carry with me is really small. If you watch TV (the big one you can really see) they advertise all kinds of phones and tout their ability to show video.

I remember futuristic detective Dick Tracy, who had a TV wristwatch. It’s one thing to video chat with your fellow cops on your wristwatch, but who watches TV shows or entire movies on their phone?

My 50-year-old eyes have a hard enough time reading some of the mice type that comes across my phone. If I wanted to watch a movie on the thing, I’d have to get someone to hold it on the other side of the sofa just to see it.
Some of the latest gadgetry is just a part of what was predicted back in the days when we were watching a piece of furniture called the TV.

I’m still waiting for the delivery of my flying car and a robot that will cook my meals, clean my house and fetch my slippers.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.



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