Great talk by futurist Paul Saffo tonight (sorry, he declined to be webcast at the last minute). Covered a lot of ground, with both inspiring and depressing intersections for journalists, but I especially enjoyed his romp through early “new media” technologies, including what must have been the first interactive television program, Winky Dink and You. Kids hung a piece of clear acetate with a connect-the-dots or other puzzle over the TV screen, and got to “rescue” Winky Dink by drawing a ladder, rope, or other device right on the screen at the right moment (subversive 50s kids apparently drew anvils or bombs to sabotage him instead). Clues given through the show led to the spelling out of a secret message.
Of course, it goes without saying that scores of kids without the kits drew on the television screen itself, ruining many a family’s first television set. “I remember that my Mother didn’t want to buy me a Winky Dink screen,” Charlie Jamison writes, “That was not going to stop me from helping my old pal Winky Dink, I just used a permanent marker! The next week, I had a Winky Dink screen.”
Also enjoyed Saffo’s collection of early remote controls (everyone still has a relative alive who calls it “the clicker,” right?
Also could relate to his “Bakelite” metaphor – when plastics first hit the scene, they worked hard to make new products look like wood or tortoise shell – the new tech was using itself to emulate the old. Since I’ve been dealing with two separate faculty members who want to put up web publications in a Flash “page turning” interface because they “just like the feel of print,” the Bakelite analogy resonated perfectly.
Other examples: The Gutenberg Bible looked just like an illuminated manuscript – print was introduced and the first thing it did was emulate the old hand-styled presentation method. And when TV was introduced, for years it just did stand-up radio shows, but with a camera on the hosts.