Analogue to Digital

Posted Thursday, 26 May 2022

When I was young, time travel seemed like one of those inevitabilities of life, like drowning in quicksand, getting eaten by piranhas or dying in a nuclear war. I always paid attention when confronted with possible time travel scenarios, considering the moments I would want to experience again when given the chance. I memorised all the rules, like never meddling in my parents’ courtship because I risked imperilling my future existence. 

Despite careful preparation, I saw a Star Trek film which left me worried. In it, the crew travelled to the past in a damaged Starship Enterprise. Pressed for time, they required a special material to fix their ship, a material which was able to perform repairs without human assistance. However, this substance had not been invented yet. So, Scotty whipped it up and, lo and behold, it turned out he was the inventor of the material all along. He gifted the technology to humanity, the crew zoomed back to the future at warp speed, and everyone rejoiced.

This has never stopped gnawing at me. I realise that if I get swept back in time, I have no knowledge to bestow on anyone. The only things I’ve ever crafted are three babies, and after a few moments of excitement, they more or less assembled themselves. I don’t understand how anything works. I know zilch about computing, but even if I travel back to a less modern era, I lack knowledge of things like combustion engines, locomotives and printing presses. My understanding of technology is most compatible with the Stone Age. Perhaps I could teach a caveman about wheels and making tools, maybe even how to build a fire. But by the agricultural revolution, I’d be out of my depth.

Although clueless, I have seen some interesting tech develop. Nearly 50, my life spans the shift from an analogue to a digital age. This is a sexier way of saying what you surely must be thinking: I am old.

When I was very little, my brother and I felt like bosses because our family owned two colour televisions and three telephones. My dad also had a record player we were not allowed to touch. 

We bought one of the earliest VCRs to record TV programs on video cassettes. It was about the size of a steamer trunk with wood lacquered buttons. Once we lugged that monstrosity home, my parents began renting Bollywood movies from the Indian grocery store. 

Over the decade that followed, we added to our tech bounty. We bought a home computer, an Apple II+, for school assignments. For gaming, we had an Atari 2600. One day I played the song ‘Pac Man Fever’ on my ladybug record player while playing Pac Man on the Atari, and I felt so cool, I nearly died.

Our computer printers became increasingly more complex as I grew up. We began with one that contained a typewriter inside and clattered out letters with loud metallic banging. This was replaced with a dot matrix printer which produced illegible, light grey text. Then when I went to university, I had a cute little Mac+ paired with a first-generation ink jet printer that made my frenzied, poorly reasoned essays look professional.

The first mobile phone I ever saw was at Deepak Chopra’s house. It was the approximate size and weight of a brick. As Deepak Uncle showed it to us, I was sceptical. Outside a battlefield, why would anyone need a portable telephone? It was madness. Especially with the recent innovation we had begun using in our household—the answering machine—which meant you’d never miss a call.

In secondary school, I raised $500 for kids with multiple sclerosis and received a choice of two prizes: 30 free ice cream sundaes or a Walkman. I chose the Walkman because it seemed sensible. I used it to listen to music on cassette tapes while riding the school bus. 

When I go back in time, one by one, I will correct my great mistakes. My first order of business will be to opt for the 30 sundaes. I have no idea what became of that Walkman, but reminiscing about ice cream while being devoured by piranhas or drowning in quicksand would be a noble death for someone like me. Talk about a life well lived!

Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian writer. She holds an MSt in Literature and Arts from the University of Oxford, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English Literature from Columbia University.


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