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My View from South Hill

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Posted by Thomas Rochon at 11:23AM   |  2 comments
Howard Hughes paid dearly for late night movies

Last weekend one of the chores on my to-do list was to hook up a new DVD player, replacing one that no longer worked.  Inevitably whenever I tackle something like this I end up with an extra cable or some other part that is presumably important to correct operation of the device.  Whenever I get frustrated with technologies I do not understand, however, I realize that they put into our hands a power that was previously reserved for the very wealthy or the very powerful.  The DVD player, for example, enables us to view any recorded performance at any time of our choosing, an opportunity that just forty years ago was reserved for the privileged few.    

Consider for example the case of Howard Hughes.  When Hughes moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1960’s, his notorious behavioral quirks were well advanced.  He had trouble sleeping at night and liked to watch movies on TV at all hours.  He could do this in major urban markets like Los Angeles where TV stations broadcast on a 24-hour basis.  But Las Vegas in the mid-1960’s was not such a market.  Every night the manager of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas would receive a late night phone call at home from one of Hughes’s assistants, asking him to keep the station open for an extra hour and to put on a particular movie that Hughes wanted to see.   The manager was understandably reluctant to keep the station open for an audience of one, even if that audience member was a billionaire.  Hughes eventually got so frustrated that in 1967 he bought the TV station for $3.6 million.  Thereafter, the station broadcast through the night and played the movies Mr. Hughes wanted to see.

As I hooked up my DVD player, it occurred to me that for $50 (for the DVD player) and a $10 monthly subscription to a DVD-in-the-mail service, I possessed (once I got the thing connected properly) the same power of control that cost Howard Hughes $3.6 million in 1967.  Today almost anyone can watch movies like a billionaire!

This is just one example of the radical democratization that technological advance has brought us.  My ability to publish these words and your ability to find them is another example.  Yes, we need to be constantly alert to ethical issues surrounding the use of new technologies.  We need to emphasize the ways in which technology can extend human capabilities and enhance human dignity rather than diminish us.  Still, we have only to take a short look back in time to realize the degree of control and convenience new technologies have given us – the kind of control only billionaires could afford a scant forty years ago.

Which means that we are all millionaires now! 


Technology has brought us many advances over the last 10 years, let alone the last 40. But I would not call the ability to watch a movie anytime we want an example of the radical democratization brought to us by the good people at Technology Inc. Nor does this particular (or any for that matter) technology move us closer to the kind of control billionaires had 40 years ago, or in any time period.

Which means that we are not all millionaires now.

If dvd players were an indicator of power/wealth, I would go out and by a couple dozen of the little buggers. Why be a millionaire when I can be a MULTI-millionaire. If some is good, more is better.

What defines a millionaire is based on a financial worth of a million dollars or more. After watching a movie on my dvd player, I checked my various bank and retirement accounts, added up my assets and came up well short of the minimum standard for this exclusive club.

If I went to make a purchase of a large expensive item, (expensive car, yacht, TV station) and offered my dvd player as an example of my worth, I would be shown the door by way of my head. And rightly so, unless it was a real-estate deal of a couple of years ago. You have a dvd player? You can afford this $600,000 home no problem! We all know where that got us.

I understand that in these troubled economic times, we need something good to grasp onto and I think your article is an attempt to try and show us we are better off than we think by way of technology. But you would have been more convincing saying something to the effect of In these troubled economic times, we need something good to grasp onto and we are better off than we think by way of technology.

That is slightly easier to digest than being equated as a millionaire with a deranged billionaire with notorious behavioral quirks whose mind was ravaged from the effects of STDs and who liked to watch movies. Or whatever miscalculated equation that makes us all millionaires.

Now if you peasants will excuse me, Im going to eat some caviar while watching TV from my computer via

These days; we demand HDTV's, cars with tons of features, and advanced computers and cell phones. The multi-millionaires of yester-year could not even dream of living the way many median income families do these days.

This is a great article to think about on the holidays. When you kids done get the PS3s, or Xbox 360s you ask for, just consider that I once paid the same price for a Sega Genesis in the early 90's, that I did for my Xbox 360. And paid a similar number for my Super Nintendo. Today, I could buy either of those systems probably for around $10, or go on the internet and download all the games that were on it for free. Interesting to consider all the past technologies we take for granted while coveting the newer ones.

Locking your gaze on the future will make any one lose sight of the past.

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