What defines a golden age? Conventional wisdom echoes that a golden age is when the quality of the product being produced is at its highest level possible; When every new innovation or release is equal to or superior to the standards of excellence that have already been achieved. It is nearly impossible to determine when you are experiencing a golden age until many years after is has passed – rarely can you identify a golden age while it is taking place. And there are some well-noted golden ages: the golden age of television, radio and movies being the most identifiable; all arts that are based upon creativity and public distraction.
When it comes to electronics, anyone can surmise that the quality that is being released is far superior to anything that has ever been created before. High-definition televisions are becoming even higher defined. Video game systems, such as the Playstation or the Xbox 360 are taking the gaming diversion from pastime to exhilaration. The broadcasting of music is now done with the giant powers of satellites or the tiny circuits of the iPod. Everything being released is better, faster and more fantastic than everything released before it? Technically, by the earlier stated definition, we should be in a golden age of electronics?
But are we?
The only flaw with that argument is that if we are in a golden period of electronic and technical innovation, then we should enter a period of decline and mediocrity at some point. It’s hard to envision new electronic items becoming worse in quality as time progresses. Unlike say, film and cinema, where there is no way that a film like Speed can be compared to Citizen Kane – the drop off in quality is simply too great. But, the difference between an iPod Mini and an iPod Nano is negligible at its most visible.
And since technology is always on an upward trend, can it then be debated that since the introduction of the last industrial revolution in the late 1800s, we have constantly been in a period of electronic excellence? Technological advancements have just been that – advancing. It’s rare that a new and important electronic release stepped backwards rather than forward: the Xbox 360 is much better than the original Nintendo. A DVD player is exponentially better than a Betamax.
If one had to pinpoint a time period where electronic and technical advancements were being produced and released at such an impressive rate, it could be argued the periods between 1919-1945. The monster of war required a great many food sources, and in order to get the upper hand, technological edges needed to be found at any and all costs. Necessity is deemed to be the mother of invention, and the requirement to survive, win and defend a way of life resulted in some of the most impressive electronic creations in an incredibly short period of time.
Back to the original question at hand, which is are we in a golden age of electronics? It would appear that we are, because the ability for electronics to connect the world has never been greater. If that is the case, then what exactly is the next goal for technical innovations? Video games and iPods and camcorders can be improved in design, but what about function? Is a digital camcorder destined to only become the feeding tube for YouTube, or can it do more?
Perhaps the question about the golden age of technology will never be answered, and maybe that’s a good thing. It would be unwise to declare that we have reached the pinnacle of invention and that everything else from here on in will be a disappointment. And while we may not be able to define the era we are in, that does not prohibit us from enjoying the benefits and innovations of it.