Saturday, 9 January 2016

Everyday awesome

Despite being Saturday and not having to get up for work this morning, I nevertheless dragged my weary carcass out of bed at six o'clock and pulled on some clothes.
I then grabbed my coat, some shoes, and a pair of binoculars before heading outside into the early morning chill to stare at the relatively cloudless sky.
I only had to wait about five minutes before I spotted what I was waiting for - the international space station. Even with binoculars it just looks like a bright star, but moving very fast across the sky. From when I spotted it until it disappeared from view was only a matter of a couple of minutes, but in that time I was surprised at the feeling of awe it inspired.
I have no idea what goes on up there or why it has been necessary to spend over 150 billion dollars on it, but when you consider that mankind has built something which travels at around 17,000mph, orbiting the planet in just 1 1/2 hours 400 kilometers above the earth, you can't help but feel a sense of incredulity - to see this tiny speck hurtling across the sky and know that there are men up there including our own Tim Peake.
And yet we go about our everyday lives without sparing a thought for it. It's been up there for many years and for the most part we've forgotten about it.

The same could be said for many other things in our lives. The technology we use every day is really quite incredible.
Back in the 1970's we were recording music on cassettes, if you wanted to call someone you probably had to use a public telephone, and there were only three channels on the television which itself had a screen like a goldfish bowl and weighed more than a Ford Transit. Come the 80's the first mobile phones were arriving - the size of a house brick and usually clamped to the ear of a loud-mouthed yuppie with red braces and a Golf GTi. Compact discs arrived, enabling us to hear our favourite albums without the accompaniment of assorted clicks and pops we'd been used to with vinyl records, and the increase in use of fuel injection systems in our cars instead of carburettors meant that time spent under the bonnet fixing the damn thing was on the wane.

Since the late nineties when the internet really started coming into its own, things have come on in leaps and bounds tech-wise with communication, shopping and everything else the web makes easier for us to do.
Now we have enormous ultra-high definition televisions less than an inch thick, we have devices with all the functionality of a PC, camera, music and video player, satellite navigation and many other things, that fits in our pocket, and there are even wigs that don't reduce passers-by to fits of hysteria.
Doctors can see inside our bodies without cutting us open for a poke-around thanks to MRI scanners, cars can run for over 250,000 miles before being consigned to the big scrapyard in the sky compared to thirty years ago when an engine was knackered if it had 100,000 miles on it and the rust was installed at the factory, and the lights in our homes now use a tiny fraction of the energy they used to.

We're surrounded by amazing technological feats that we just take for granted. When something new emerges there's a bit of 'ooh'ing followed by a steady stream of early-adopters before the price comes down, sales go up, the market gets saturated and it becomes a disposable item, making way for the next 'big thing'.
First we wonder why it's needed, then we get used to it before wondering how we ever lived without it. Yet we forget just how much has gone into making all these things happen.
The designers and engineers, those with the vision and determination to turn dreams into reality, the endless scribbles on the back of cigarette packets in the pub, and the tinkering of brainy yet socially awkward men in sheds, all have had a part to play in the technological marvels that surround us today.
So next time you make a video call to a relative on the other side of the world, walk away from a car crash that would have killed you if it had happened a couple of decades ago, or heat up yesterday's leftovers in the microwave, spare a though for all of those people that made it possible.