Along with the demise of the incandescent light bulb (as mentioned yesterday) there have been other fundamental changes in technology. A century ago a radio receiver could be assembled by virtually anyone using items such as a galena crystal, and some wire wrapped around a toilet paper (or similar) tube. The only component you really needed to purchase was a set of headphones.
A transmitter required a bit more – an ignition coil from a car, a tuning coil wrapped around an oatmeal box. The telegraph key was the main purchase item. Incidentally, the construction was called “breadboarding” since the parts were mounted on a piece of wood, such as the board used to cut bread.
Fifty years ago you could tune your car with a set of basic tools usually twice a year. Oil and filter, set of sparkplugs and ignition points, and every so often a new set of sparkplug wires.
Today most people don’t work on their own cars; they take it to a shop where (for $79) the mechanic hooks a device to the car’s computer and the computer reports what the car needs. If that clunking noise isn’t something that the computer tracks, it must not be important.
Electronics – the same way. As a kid if the television wasn’t working right, I’d take the tubes out, ride my bicycle to the Rexall Drugstore, use their tube tester and purchase a replacement tube right there.
Today’s devices aren’t home-repair or experimenter friendly. First, the manufacturers glue everything shut; second, there’s very little in the way of documentation.
I guess I’d like to point to today’s kids and complain that they spend all their time playing video games and texting, but can’t. If there’s no 21st century equivalent of a mechanical alarm clock begging to be taken apart, just to see how it works, how can we get them excited? Kids are still naturally curious – now we have to figure out how to feed their curiosity.