Kirn’s love for the Beats is misplaced, but his mention of the science-based conformity of the 50s is a solid and strong point.
Conformity in a tech context means losing old information and old devices that were valid and functional.
The scientific consensus of the ’50s was good on “climate” and excellent on viruses and immunity. They had everything right in those areas. No lost info, no fake data.
The supposedly positive utopias of the ’50s were based on the vicious Enlightenment lie that all humans are identical passive grains of sand, with no internal purposes or differences. Utopian food was a single pill each day.
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In mechanical and electronic tech, many earlier developments were standardized out of existence in the ’50s. Cars reached a point of maximum conformity in 1956. Many devices and sizes of car and types of engine had been available in the ’30s. Theft-proof ignitions, adaptive suspensions, and power brakes were common in 1935 and nonexistent in 1950.
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Here’s a 1935 development in electronics that radically surprised me yesterday. A new upload at American Radio Library is a trade journal for radio repairmen. It mentions:
The photoelectric cell, that marvel of modern science which makes it possible to broadcast and receive television programs and which causes doors to open and close without the aid of human hands, may soon be making the lives of thousands of paralytics happier. Experiments carried out in New York City’s Reconstruction Hospital have demonstrated the remarkable usefulness of the electric eye. The first tests of an apparatus devised by an electrical engineer in connection with crippled patients were made in the room of a I4-year-old boy paralyzed from the neck down. The head of the boy’s bed was fitted with a photoelectric cell and several beams of light were so focused that, when the boy moves his head from side to side, the light beams were interrupted and the electric eye was actuated to perform such minor miracles as turning on a radio, or shutting it off, turning the pages of a book placed on a rack before the patient, and ringing a bell to summon a nurse.
In 1983 I built a nearly identical device for a patient in an identical situation. A photocell on each side sensed when her head turned toward the pillow, and a row-column selector program in a Radio Shack Color Computer printed out a text or issued commands.
This was considered advanced cutting-edge AAC technology in 1983. I had no idea that it had been made and forgotten 50 years earlier!