Thursday, April 9, 2009
0904091230 Facebook is the latest CB radio
Facebook reminds me of the CB radio craze of the 70’s. The Citizens Band Radio, has, or rather had, an opportunity to radically change the way people communicated, instead, the medium degenerated into a laughable game where it was forbidden to speak in an intelligible manner. For reasons that were never explained to my satisfaction, every utterance had to be in some kind of code. The code wasn’t even secret – the list of codes was available to the general public at any electronics store.
Using a CB radio in the 70’s was like an early version of a chat room except people were really talking, actually speaking instead of typing. Random people would wantonly transmit their voices into the ether and hope that someone equally lonely would listen to them. Occasionally, people asked what time it was by asking if anyone had the “10-36” even though it takes a lot longer to say “ten thirty-six” instead of “time”. The simple addition of a clock into a CB radio was never a design consideration – that sort of luxury had to wait until the Betamax video recorder.
People just talked on the thing. There were some truck drivers that asked the exact location of police cars but mostly people chatted about nothing in particular. The word “police” was treated like a swear word. It was forbidden to utter the sylables. Everyone had to say “bear” or taking the image yet another diabolical and cryptic step further, “Smokey”. It was this last sinister change that completely and utterly failed to fool any of the worlds law-enforcement officers. For some reason the truck drivers thought the police would remain ignorant of their little code-making game and the truck drivers honestly thought that no one would ever know what “bear” meant. It was their little secret.
The ultimate downfall of CB radio was the randomness – there was no order, no control and way to call one single person, there was a lot talk but little communication. It was a bizarre social experiment to see if people would change their language just to show other CB users that they could. The whole industry failed the basic test of actually being useful. It really had no use. It was, as history has shown, useless. Who, when their CB eventually stopped working, actually replaced it.
The schoolboy-level conversations that I had about a CB radio were always accompanied by these concepts: The mystery of the standing wave ratio. I heard someone say that they had tuned their radio by shaving one eighth of one inch from the base of their antenna – they were of course, lying.
The total lack of understanding about a phenomenon called “skip”. In another conversation I overheard someone say that a tin roof could amplify a signal – they were sadly mistaken and I believe remain so to this day. A tin roof can, under right conditions, reflect a signal, it can focus a signal, but it cannot amplify a signal.
What was a “sideband” and what made it so special that, with one, you could talk to truck drivers on the other side of the world in America. What was squelch – was that even a real word? Apparently it involves the impossible compromise between either listening to constant static or listening to a signal so weak that reply was impossible. Then there was the useless switch marked ANL for “automatic noise limiter”. It didn’t – someone incorrectly told me it was the “analyser” even though he had no idea what it analysed and how it even showed the results of whatever it was analysing. I’m sure the electronic engineer that designed the radio had laboured into the night to think of a way to reduce noise, but really, for all intents and purposes, it was just another switch that the marketing people wanted to use to fill in a blank space on the front panel.
And so in this modern age of communication we have long ago replaced the near-useless CB. First with computer chat rooms and lately, and for the time being, facebook. The internet’s equivalent to the CB radio and humankind’s latest thing for people to tell each other what they are doing. Facebook is the medium for self-promotion, for creating your own brand image and advertising yourself and your chosen personality for all the world to see, albeit with a perfunctionary wave to privacy.
at 4/09/2009 11:32:00 AM