« The Joys Of Grass | Main | The Last Dance »

Letter From America: Miniaturisation

Ronnie Bray casts a cool eye on electronic miniaturisation, concluding that all the world’s knowledge will eventually be put onto a memory chip of such sub-micro-micronic dimensions that it will be invisible to the naked eye, even when wearing glasses. "When that happens, one misdirected sneeze could launch the sum total of human knowledge and wisdom into the nearest up draught, never to be seen again.''

Read more of Ronnie's splendid columns, each one of which displays a Dickensian zest for the miracle that is the English language, by clicking on Letter From America in the menu on this page.

And enjoy Ronnie's autobiography A Shout From The Attic, also listed in the menu.

Make no mistake the Miniaturisation Monster is coming! I have seen its footprints and they are heading this way. You could say I first noticed it in the early sixties when I bought a transistor radio for the king’s ransom of eleven pounds. It was an efficient radio receiver, and didn’t need to be connected to the mains and didn’t have an accumulator that needed charging every Saturday.

With the acquisition of that delightful radio, a new word came into my vocabulary: PP3. This was the size of the Every-Ready battery needed to drive it. It supplied nine volts and brought in stations beyond the reach of the old glass valve sets I was used to. The biggest problem was that it sucked the battery dry if it was left on day and night, as it was my wont to do. I hated silence.

My solution to that problem was to buy a huge lantern battery and connect the trannie to that. It lasted for three or more months, but it did do violence to the concept of miniaturisation.

Peabody Holmes of Turnbridge Huddersfield entered the computer age in the mid seventies. A room was converted to house the coming computer by having a false floor installed, beneath which the miles of cabling would run from component to component to processing unit and to the input and output modules. It carried air conditioning ducts and housed the climate control system to maintain humidity, temperature, and air quality, things that the workers did not have for their comfort.

I reflected on this expensive installation and the cost and size of the mainframe computer it housed when I bought my first computer second hand in 1988. Mine would fit uncomfortably under my arm for carrying, but it had a processor more powerful than Peabody Holmes’ mainframe.

The main frame yielded to the desktop server, the personal computer, laptop, and palm computers, and that was before the advent of iPods, Blackberrys, and other marvels of miniaturisation.

Video cameras underwent rapid transformation from heavy-duty full cassette recorders down to palm sized mega monsters in a series of reducing steps. Telephony joined in the mad rush to reduce soon after the introduction of the car phone, and the personal telephone as big as a brick. Cell telephones got smaller and smaller, with increases in function in inverse proportion to the decreasing size of the units. The smaller they got, the more powerful they became.

Gay and I bought a digital camera in 2002. It had a removable 4-Megabyte memory card. It is the size of my dainty little finger. Later, we bought the same sized storage unit with a 64-Megabyte capacity. The same thing is now available with 1-Gigabyte capacity.

As I remarked to Gay, the trend contains the seeds of its own destruction because the time is fast approaching when more and more information is stored on less and less memory. The logical conclusion of this drift is for all the world’s knowledge to eventually be put onto a memory chip of such sub-micro-micronic dimensions that it will be invisible to the naked eye even when wearing glasses. When that happens, one misdirected sneeze could launch the sum total of human knowledge and wisdom into the nearest up draught never to be seen again.

Man would have to begin all over again using sticks and pieces of rock to drag himself up again out of his ignorance. I am not sure I have the energy that would require.

Perhaps we ought to take our miniaturised stuff and do what we used to do in the olden days with things that would cause the ruination of human society if they were lost: take a piece of stout cord and tie them securely to a mill bobbin and hang them on a nail behind the back door.

Copyright © Ronnie Bray 2006

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬

If there is no wind - ROW!

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.