And the First Gadget Begat Another Until There Were Billions

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Although it’s a cliché to say that we live in a world of gadgets, it wasn’t so long ago in the past that the most complicated gadget in almost any house was the dial telephone with a cord that kept the phone attaché to a wall or a tabletop.  Now, that most homes have a fairly broad range of gadgets is an easy bet.  However, many people still are a bit intimidated by gadgets.  This short primer is intended for people who have come to this site looking for an introduction to the modern world of gadgets.

Desktop Personal Computer

About 70 years ago, the president and CEO of IBM famously said that he didn’t see the need for more than a few computers in the entire world!  Soon, there were far more than a few computers in the world but they were massive machines that needed a huge space.  It took decades before the size of computers could be reduced to merely “fitting in a room”.

If we look back on the most modern movies from the 1960s and ’70s, we won’t see a single computer.  Woodward and Bernstein wrote their investigative reports on the Watergate scandal on portable typewriters.

The personal computer was introduced to a mass audience only in the middle 1970s.  They were quite expensive and were thus outside the range of affordability for most people.  The same was the case at first with color television and central air conditioning.  Soon, however, the prices began to fall and as they did more people bought their first, slow, and not very powerful, desktop computer.

Electronics vs Electrical

Today, the term electronics refers to any item however big it may be that it is computerized, has a microchip, and while it may also run on electricity, it also needs the proper electronic technology.  Televisions long ago passed from the world of electrical machines to electronic devices.


Just as the first personal computers were expensive, the first portable telephones were both expensive and bulky.  It would take a few generations of portable telephone technology until the term smartphone would be used.  The first portable telephones were simply telephones.  They were so wondrous that languages sought to incorporate wonderment in their name.  In Hebrew, for instance, the word for telephone is…telephone and the word for wonderment is “pele” so the first portable telephones to be marketed in Israel were called “pelephones”!

These telephones gave people faster than normal access to other people but texting was yet to come.  It was easy to learn to use a telephone at first even though they were so big that you had to carry them in your hands.

Pocket Calculator

These were introduced around 1970 and replaced the slide rule.  However, in the movie Apollo 13, when the staff in Houston monitoring the flight to the moon heard that the flight was in danger they all took out their slide rules to make the quick calculations necessary to save the astronauts’ lives.

Today, first-grade kids take a pocket calculator as a basic school supply along with pencils and erasers.

Laptop Computer

This wasn’t as much a great leap forward as was the desktop computer.  The laptop computer was simply much smaller so businesspeople could carry their computer with them.  The first ones were very heavy and slow but once again served a big function to their first purchasers which allowed the technology to go forward making laptops lighter, more affordable, and stronger.


When we talk about gadgets, most people begin with smartphones.  These were telephones that could not only make and receive calls but could organize your daily activity.  The world of applications had not yet arrived.

Smartphones were amazingly smart.  As they became less expensive more people bought them.  Younger users had to help their parents learn the basics of smartphone use.  As the technology got “smaller” more and more uses could be added to a smartphone.  The touchscreen was one such technological advancement.

It actually scared many older people who were afraid that they would lose the touchscreen stylus.  In response to this likelihood, manufacturers invented the finger touch screen so we no longer need a stylus.  How many times have we seen little kids tapping at or swiping a screen that doesn’t respond and the kids can’t figure out why?


In the beginning, there was a single application.  This was a great step forward as it demonstrated the vast power of the smartphone.  Soon the applications multiplied and soon thereafter were called simply “apps”.  An app is nothing more than computerized software that people can easily apply (download) to their smartphone and use whenever they need it.  Today there are literally millions of apps, most of which most people don’t need.

Our smartphones are now called mobile phones or simply mobiles, or cells (for cellular phone), depending on where in the world you are from.  They, along with tablets, which are basically large mobile phones without the ability to make calls, and less capacity than a good laptop computer, hold all the apps we use.


This is a navigating system in which a GPS device on the ground (usually in your phone) receives a signal from a satellite and can identify your location and instruct you on how to get to another location.

GPS technology, like cable television and satellite television technology, points to a very important factor about gadgets: just as most people don’t know how electrical devices work yet can easily use them so it is with gadgets.  We don’t have to understand the technology to be able to use it.

Finding Someone You Trust

Just as we don’t have to understand how the technology works, we don’t have to remember all the terms and code words for the various component parts of our modern computerized world.  If you are in the market to buy a gadget, find someone you trust such as a son or daughter, a young friend or neighbor to help you make your way through the entanglement of words you don’t understand, numbers that mean nothing to you, and names that seem to repeat again and again in different contexts.

In no time at all, you’ll know everything you need to know about gadgets!


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