Out on the front porch right now, I'm listening to the radio. Nothing you couldn't have done for more than eighty-five years, it's just that the tools have changed. I am using about four hundred dollars' worth of technology... to listen to the radio.
Except that the "radio" is a T-Mobile MDA.
Using 802.11g wireless in my house.
Streamed through a wireless router and a cable modem.
The song playing is a 1929 Clarence Williams and His Jazz Kings record.
And the radio station is in Switzerland.
This isn't exactly something you could have done fifty years ago with a Regency TR-1, the first commercially-available transistor radio in the United States. That sucker cost $49.95 back in the fall of 1954, something around the equivalent of $500 now. And that was strictly AM-monophonic, and while a station might have been playing 1929 jazz 78s back then, I doubt you'd pull the station in if it was in Switzerland.
So none of this stuff is really new, except... it is. While I was listening to Clarence Williams, I could also call anyone in the country for free (which was in 1954). I could also surf the web (which didn't exist in 1954, an age in which most computers were the size of my house and used vacuum tubes) and check email (which also didn't exist in 1954). And at the same time over that network connection, there were three other computers -- none of them anywhere near the size of the house in which they exist -- doing other things on the network. And there was a monster truck race and an old movie from 1955 coming down over the analog television line, in color.
So, while those Regency TR-1s are still fetching four and five hundred dollars on eBay (adjusted for inflation, about what they cost new), they're so laughably simple that no one in years has bothered making their equivalent. They'd have to sell for about fifty cents, and only baseball fans and Rush Limbaugh addicts listen to AM radio any more.
I guess things have advanced a little. I have a feeling that if Bob Metcalfe had been born in 1906 instead of 1946, everything we know about communications would be different now.
I mean, differenter than they are.