Oral History Report

I first met Nils Lou fall semester of my freshman year. As a master ceramicist he is at home at around clay and in his studio at Linfield College.  He can look over his room full of 30 students and immediately pick out who was having trouble and assist them.  Around clay he is the master, patient and calm. I often wondered if he was always this way.  Nils, who is now in his eighties, has experienced the highs and lows of technology and everything in between.  During our interview I realized just how much the media and technology has changed.

Nils stares somewhat confusedly at me as I explain how music is often censored for kids.  I asked him if he ever had music he wasn’t allowed to listen to.  After some reflection he says, “well… no… I guess I never did.”  Upon further reflection he says he mainly listened to Peggy Lee on a three-dialed radio.  The time he was my age is so different from now where the radio and the music industry have either self-monitor or run the risk of government interference.  Now a days the RIAA has to self regulate by putting a parental advisory explicit lyrics label on all music with “explicit” or controversial lyrics.  This is a time where parents are worried about their children listening to curse words and profanity, racist and sexist lyrics.  Back in Nils’ day however, none of that happened, and there was no need for either the “explicit lyrics” label or the parental censoring.

Nils then tells me of how he made his own radio out of a kit.  He strung the copper wire out of his window and to the nearby tree in order to listen to the baseball stats.  In thinking of my experience with radio now I realize how different our lived have been.  I who listen to radio mostly on my computer am now realizing how much convergence has changed my views.  Now that convergence is a reality more things are possible.  The fact that one computer or smart phone can hold so much other media is awe-inspiring and scary.  I think of movies and TV, radio and games on my computer as normal.  Whereas Nils had to create his own radio with copper wires, trees and metal, mine is light and portable.  It is interesting to think the format of radio was once through an actual radio.

I ask about the first computers.  Nils said his was over 3,000 dollars and had a small box-like screen.  He reminds me that he hadn’t had a computer before then.  Nils tells me it was one of the most difficult mediums he’s dealt with.  At that point I looked at his Mac.  How much did he really know about it?  How much do I really know about my Mac?  I don’t know half the stuff it can do and I have had my Mac for over three years.  Maybe I was also being left behind?  Maybe technology was racing ahead of me too?

Nils then remarks about TV and how he was one of the first people on TV.  That makes me stop and listen.  He says the FCC was having a trade show to show the newest and greatest in inventions.  The TV, all in black and white was one of the inventions.  Nils tells me of how he went in front of a camera, which projected his image onto the screen in the next room.  I stare at him.  Recently a Nielson report did a study of how people 18-24 years in age watch about 22 hours of traditional TV a week.  This isn’t even including the TV watched over the Internet or on smartphones.  I can’t even imagine a time without TV.  I can’t imagine the tentative excitement Nils must have felt being one of the first people on TV when TV was just a prototype.  Now when TV and movies are in high definition color, 3-D and on huge monitors and screens it is difficult to imagine a clunky little box being the newest and greatest thing.

Nils remarks about the first portable phone he ever saw.  It was in an airport, a “huge brick-like phone” that another passenger was talking loudly into.  I find that so different from now.  Now when people my age cannot last even a class time without texting under the table.  It makes me wonder what we would do without technology being where it is today.  It also makes me wonder if my generation will be left behind in the ever-evolving and changing world of technology.  Will people in about eighty years be looking at me and wondering what TV or computers even were?

In speaking of the future Nils says he is generally optimistic about the media.  “Look how far it has come.  Ten years ago you couldn’t watch TV, Internet videos on your phone.”  Thinking about it, Nils is right.  The media is an ever growing, ever evolving system with each medium constantly trying to “one-up” each other.

It’s almost comical how much the media has changed, how much it will change.  During my interview with Nils the things he was saying didn’t really sink in.  Now as I am writing this I think of myself.  In eighty years will I be out of date.  Will I be struggling with the newest inventions like Nils struggled with computers?

This interview has changed my ideas about the future of the media and it’s history.  It is exciting to see where the media has come from and where it is now.  It is exciting to think that hopefully I will, one day, be a part of this exponential change through my hopeful profession in advertising.  I believe this growth in all fields of the media is not as necessary as people believe.  After all if Nils could handle smaller TV’s why can’t we? If people managed for hundreds of years not having smart phones why can’t we now?

The world of media may be getting more complex in its efforts to become simpler.  People are falling through the cracks not knowing how to keep up with the media as a whole.  This worries me.  Nils though remains optimistic even when confused by technology.  After all if Nils lived through change and is optimistic why am I not?  This fast paced world of media has made me fearful of being left behind.  It is like Nils said, ten years ago we didn’t have iPhones, smart phones that utilize convergence.   In Nils’ time when he was my age, people could barely think of a phone that held mixed mediums on it.  A phone that was a computer had Internet capabilities and could hold movies, books and music.  In eighty years will I be baffled and confused with technology as well?  Or will I be learning, optimistic like Nils.  Only time will tell…

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