In this interactive activity adapted from A Science Odyssey, learn how technology in the home has changed through the years. Scroll through a timeline from 1900 to 2010 to explore technological innovations in the home (such as phonographs, telephones, refrigerators, radios, televisions, and computers), and read about how they were developed and adapted and how they changed the way people live.
The original version of this interactive can be seen as a Science Odyssey: You Try It activity.
Think about the devices you have in your home—a refrigerator or a television, for instance, or possibly a personal computer. How would your life be different if you didn't have these? Innovations in technology give rise to new products and services for our homes and affect the way each of us lives. In many cases, these devices are developed as a response to society's changing needs. But they also reflect and even shape the values held by a society, such as a wish for more convenience or durability, or for something smaller, safer, and easier to use.
New technologies—or modernizations of existing ones—often begin as attempts to solve specific problems. For example, in the 1970s, companies were seeking a new way to store music that would offer superb sound quality, longer playing time (compared to the then- popular vinyl albums), and durability. Two leading companies at the time (Sony and Philips) created a joint task force of engineers dedicated to developing just such a way. The result was the compact disc (CD). Their research advanced laser and optical disc technology and set the standards and specifications for compact discs. Soon CDs became the most popular audio storage medium and compact disc players were widespread. Eventually, the technology was adapted to include other types of data, and CDs became widely used in the computer industry as well.
However, sometimes innovations happen unexpectedly. For example, the idea for a microwave oven was stumbled upon by an engineer named Percy Spencer, who was researching radar for military use at the end of World War II. While passing by a magnetron, the power tube of a radar set, he noticed that the candy bar in his pocket melted. Curious about why this had happened, Dr. Spencer tried another experiment: placing popcorn kernels near the magnetron. When the kernels began to pop, the concept of a microwave oven was born—the microwave radiation emitted from the magnetron could be used to cook food!
Of course, innovations in technology depend on the technology available as well as inventive ideas and the needs and wants of society. For example, personal digital assistants (PDAs), handheld computers used to keep track of appointments and store notes, became popular in the 1990s as technology allowed for them to be small and reasonably priced. As technology gets smaller and cheaper, it becomes possible to have devices with even more functions. Before long, phones became integrated into PDAs, and now smartphones—mobile phones that run a complete operating system and offer advanced computing—are commonplace. Another example is the iPod, which started off as a dedicated music player and now has even smaller versions that include an FM tuner and video camera! As technology makes it possible to combine ever more functions into one device, will the trend continue toward multipurpose devices?
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