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We are innovative masters - Tom Purcell

While searching the Internet last week, I stumbled upon a Google Archives article that made me chuckle.

The article ran in the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 7, 1992. It touted the introduction of a video phone, from the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., that allowed consumers to send and receive video and voice calls.

"The 6-pound phone contains a built-in camera and tiny video screen and is about the size of a phone-answering machine," said the article.

And it only cost $1,500!

That was 19 years ago, prehistoric times where technology is concerned.

I didn't get my first cell phone until 1994. It wasn't as big as the early brick phones, but it was too big to put in my pocket.

I paid $20 a month for the service and, if I remember correctly, 35 cents for every minute used during peak time. That cost added up fast.

But it was worth every penny.

I still have bad memories of my high school years in the late '70s, when I spent hours standing by the pay phone trying to call my parents for a ride home.

That's because we had only one phone line, and my five sisters tied up the line every moment of the day. Since call waiting hadn't been invented, all I ever got was the buzzing busy signal.

When was the last time you heard one of those?

Caller ID was not yet commonplace, either, so I was forced to spend hours screening calls for my sisters. They made me tell whatever fellow was calling them that they weren't home.

I always felt bad for those fellows –– because the brothers of the girls I was calling were telling me the exact same lies.

Alas, advances in technology would soon resolve these problems.

By 1990, about 70 percent of Americans had answering machines and were using them to screen their calls.

Caller ID finally eliminated the need of brothers across America to lie for their sisters.

And call waiting made it possible for high school kids to get hold of their parents for a ride no matter who was tying up the line.

Look at us now.

I have an Android smartphone. It is a computer that fits in the palm of my hand. It's 50,000 times more powerful than the giant IBM machines that took up whole city blocks just 30 years ago.

I can use it to do research, navigate the country (GPS), watch a movie or press my thumbs against the keypad (texting) to bastardize the English language.

Sometimes, I even use the thing to phone people.

The point is, America has enjoyed so much technology innovation so fast, we have come to take it for granted.

But we shouldn't.

Consider some of the top innovations from the past 50 years, according to Popular Mechanics:

Microwave oven, 1955. Jet airliner, 1959. Integrated circuit, 1959. Communications satellite, 1962. Coronary bypass surgery, 1967. Smoke detector, 1969. MRI, 1973. Personal computer, 1977. GPS, 1978. DNA matching, 1984. Genetic sequencing, 1998. MP3 player, 1998.

Innovation is the ticket to a better economy and future.

Heck, when Jimmy Carter was president, he said the world was going to run out of oil, but technology advancements made it possible to find and extract oil deeper down.

Despite our current woes, America is plum full of creative geniuses who are right now innovating important innovations that will drive massive efficiencies and real wealth.

I am reminded of this when I stumble upon articles about $1,500 video phones that date back to 1992.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. E-mail Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.