15 Unbelievable Tech Moments in TV History

The evolution of technology in real life is something to behold. It’s even more meaningful when we see it at home through the magic of television. Some technologies are new, many exist, and others don’t exist. The technology on TV influences the way viewers perceive their favorite programs, their environments, and even their shopping habits. What distinguishes these technological moments in television is that their impact is felt years or even decades later.

1. Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969)

Star Trek (1966)
Image Credit: Paramount Television.
The futuristic technologies used in the original series are a major reason why it’s still a pop culture phenomenon decades after its original television run. Transporters, which allow the beaming of people and objects to another location or the starship, along with travel that’s faster than the speed of light only exist in the fantasy world of space travel, but there may come a time when these technologies become a reality.

2. Maxell Tape Blown Away Guy

Maxell Tape Ad
Image Credit: Maxell.
One of the most legendary television ads is the “blown away guy” in the commercials for Maxell cassette tapes. A man wearing sunglasses sits in a chair next to an end table with a glass of wine on it. His butler brings in a Maxell tape to play. As Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” plays in the background, the sound from the speaker is so intense that the man’s tie, hair, and lampshade are blown back. The wine glass is nearly pushed off the table before he catches it. The commercial first aired in 1981, but it’s still memorable decades later.

3. Apple’s 1984 Super Bowl Commercial

Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial
Image Credit: Apple.
One of the most memorable commercials ever aired during a Super Bowl was broadcast in 1984 by Apple as an ad for its Macintosh computers. The ad starts as a colorless simulation of the forced conformity reminiscent of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984. It’s interrupted by a runner with a sledgehammer in vivid color. This commercial told viewers that Apple was a force to be reckoned with.

4. “Dude, You’re Getting a Dell” Ads

Dude, You're Getting a Dell Ad
Image Credit: Dell.
To convince parents to buy their kids a Dell desktop computer, the company released a series of ads starting in 2000 with the character Steve, a teenager surfer guy who took great joy in extolling the benefits of a Dell PC. His catchphrase, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell,” made the PCs the coolest devices of the new millennium.

5. will.i. am’s Election Night Hologram

Will.I.am hologram CNN
Image Credit: CNN.
The 2008 presidential election cycle was groundbreaking in many respects, including its reliance on social media to turn out the youth vote for then-Sen. Barack Obama. On November 5, 2008, in a departure from its usual election night coverage, CNN opted for holograms of Jessica Yellin, one of its news correspondents and singer will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, beamed into their studios. The image sparked comparisons to Princess Leia in Star Wars, but considering the role of technology in the election, the holograms fit right in.

6. Cutting the Cord

Woman watching video streaming app
Image Credit: Shutterstock.
With the cost of cable television rising to uncomfortable levels, many customers started looking for cheaper alternatives. Viewers started gravitating towards streaming channels like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and streaming devices like the Roku Stick and Amazon Fire Stick. Streaming technology continues to grow in popularity with abundant viewing options at comparatively low prices, revolutionizing how consumers watch television.

7. First Presidential Debate on Television

John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon Debate
Image Credit: United Press International – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.
September 26, 1960, changed broadcast and political history with the first-ever televised presidential debate between Vice President Richard M. Nixon and his opponent, Sen. John F. Kennedy. Instead of just hearing the candidates’ positions on the radio, voters could see them together on TV. Kennedy looked young, vibrant, and healthy compared to Nixon, who looked sweaty and uncomfortable on camera. Kennedy’s impression on viewers was enough to propel him to victory, making image almost as important as policy stances in politics.

8. Coverage of the Vietnam War

Vietnam War protesters
Image Credit: Unknown Author – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.
Media coverage of World War II and the Korean War consisted mainly of newspaper and radio reports and carefully curated film updates broadcast as newsreels in movie theaters. After America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, reporting changed. Television journalists were embedded with combat troops in Vietnam, bringing the war into living rooms across the country. Seeing the brutality of the war caused many Americans to oppose the conflict. Since then, media access to combat soldiers has been less prevalent.

9. Apple’s “I’m A Mac” Ads

I'm A Mac, I’m a PC Ad
Image Credit: Apple.
In 2006, Apple unveiled its new ad campaign promoting their Mac desktop computers over PCs. Instead of featuring the actual devices, the ads used two actors against a white backdrop, one in business attire representing PCs and the other in casual clothing depicting Macs. The ads were a hit with audiences and increased Apple’s status as the computers to own.

10. HP’s “The Computer Personal Again” Ads

Hewlett-Packard Ad
Image Credit: Hewlett-Packard.
Not to be outdone by Apple, HP launched its commercials with the tagline “The computer is personal again.” Some ads featured everyday people demonstrating how their HP laptops fit into their lives. Others showcased celebrities like Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, and Shaun White. The celebrity commercials stood out because their faces didn’t appear, but their hand gestures illustrated their creative use of HP computers.

11. Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon, July 20, 1969, Apollo 11
Image Credit: Project Apollo Archive – Public Domain/Wiki Commons.
The Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, is one of those historic moments where people remember where they were when it happened. The incredible achievements of astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins were televised live. NASA’s space technologies set the stage for Armstrong and Aldrin to be the first to walk on the moon and instilled a belief in viewers that even the most ambitious goals could come true with hard work, ingenuity, and imagination.

12. Quantum Leap (1989-1993)

Quantum Leap (1989)
Image Credit: Universal Television.
The original television series about a time-traveling physicist starring Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett and Dean Stockwell as his sidekick and guide Al, ran from 1989 to 1993. It relies heavily on technology as part of the weekly storylines. Dr. Beckett created a machine that allowed time travel, and his friend Al appeared as a hologram only he could see. They’re helped along the way by Ziggy, a highly developed artificial intelligence computer. Except for the time travel machine (yet), the technologies from Quantum Leap have become a reality.

13. Westworld (1973)

Yul Brynner in Westworld (1973)
Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Science fiction and the Old West come together in nightmarish fashion in the 1973 film Westworld. Wealthy visitors to the Westworld theme park are catered to by android hosts who appear human but are programmed never to harm people. It’s only a matter of time before the androids take on human-like characteristics and upend the order in the park. With the rapid advances in robotics, it’s not a stretch to believe that an android will be indistinguishable from a real person someday.

14. Modern Family (2009-2020)

Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet in Modern Family (2009)
Image Credit: Steven Levitan Productions.
The Dunphy family loves their technology. Everyone uses smartphones and laptops and even remote robots for long-distance gatherings. But it’s Phil’s strong desire for a first-generation Apple iPad for his birthday and the lengths his family goes to get him one that powers an entire episode. His wife Claire promises to wake up early to be one of the first in line to buy an iPad, but she falls asleep on the sofa, missing out on the early sale. Son Luke saves the day and finds an iPad to gift to his dad online. The episode perfectly captures the love of new gadgets.

15. Tupac Shakur Hologram at Coachella

Tupac
Image Credit: Death Row Records.
Technically speaking, the Coachella festival streams on YouTube, not conventional television, but what happened in 2012 was too monumental to ignore. Tupac Shakur died in 1996, but his hologram performed onstage at Coachella in 2012, 16 years after his death. Seeing the greatest rapper of all time on stage once again made for a bittersweet but iconic moment in music and technology history.

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