Gizmodo: When is the first time you remember using a piece of technology and thinking, "Wow, this is amazing"? Joe: My first exposure to technology was through my father, who was always an early adopter. I remember him filming family events with his Super 8 camera and taping our voices on a very expensive reel-to-reel recorder that I was never allowed to touch unless I wanted to find myself put up for adoption. But my most vivid memory of falling in love with technology was when my dad got me a Panasonic compact cassette radio — I was like, "What? Not only can I record onto these tiny cassettes but I can tape songs right off the radio as it plays? Seriously?!?"
I was around 12 at the time and I remember spending hours alone in my room waiting for songs like Aerosmith's "Dream On" and Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom" to come around in the rotation in order to record them. When it was all said and done, I had a box full of cassettes with all my favourite songs, each missing the first 4 to 5 seconds and overdubbed with obnoxious station IDs, but it was still a technological miracle to me.
Gizmodo: Did any other pieces of technology influence you as a young person? Joe: Well, even before the cassette radio, I was deeply influenced by television, especially when it came to art and drawing. And the very first guy who drew for a living on TV was Jon Gnagy. Mr Gnagy was the host of a show called Learn to Draw, where he'd show you how to illustrate things like a mountain lake or an ocean liner or a gristmill. Seriously, a gristmill! I'd follow along at home and do everything just as he did it. Watching Jon Gnagy draw was like watching a magician do the world's greatest magic trick. Imagine how thrilled I was when one day my dad surprised me with an official Jon Gnagy art kit. Imagine how much he regretted it when I got everything in our house covered in black charcoal.
There was also a cartoon show around that same time called Winky Dink and You, and it was this kind of interactive TV show. Now mind you, in order to "interact" with Winky Dink you had to buy the official Winky Dink and You drawing kit, which consisted of a sheet of plastic they called the Magic Screen to place over your TV screen and some crayons. Throughout the show, Winky Dink would go on adventures, and somewhere along the line he'd stop and ask you to take out your special crayons and trace a shape that was appearing on your TV screen. Eventually, that shape would form an object that Winky Dink would need to complete his adventure. Just talking about it makes me think of all the mothers across America who must have cringed when this show came on, watching their kids eagerly sitting in front of the TV crayon at the ready.
The irony of it all is that today I get to pay my rent by using my childhood obsession for drawing and television. Thanks to Wacom's Cintiq tablets, I spend a good portion of my day drawing on a monitor, sadly sans Winky Dink, and on Sunday mornings I get to show kids how to draw on Disney XD during our Marvel Block just like Jon Gnagy. Now if I could only find my box of old cassettes I'd be all set.
Video: Michael Hession
What Was It is a series of short interviews co-hosted that asks the luminaries of science and technology what inspired them.