I have been an Amateur Astronomer for almost a half of a century. Needless to say, I have seen, witnessed and experienced a lot of change. The progression of Technology, new ideas and dare I say, shifts in Paradigms.
Having read many, many books. Researched old issues of Sky and Telescope and spoken to hundreds of Amateurs. I learned a lot!
Lets compare equipment from decades ago to state-of-the-art, cutting edge current gear available now.
To keep things from being too "alien" and "strange", I will only go back as far as the 1950's. Back then, and right up until the late 1970's, if you were on a budget as many amateurs were, you purchased a mirror grinding kit, Sam Brown's "All About Telescopes" and built your own scope. Bought inexpensive eyepieces from A. Jaeger's or from Edmund Scientific Co. And chances were, you'd actually have something that produced decent images.
If you were fortunate to have parents with a larger than normal "disposable" income, and if you could talk them into it, then companies with names like Unitron, Starliner, Cave Astrola and maybe, just maybe Questar would be within your economic reach.
While importance was placed on quality long focal length Achromatic lenses, full thickness primary mirrors and German Equatorial Mounts, far less emphasis was placed on vital parts such as focusers, star diagonals, anti-reflective or enhanced reflective coatings and even eyepieces. Believe it or not, back then, these items were considered not that terribly important!
Then along comes a Vedantic monk from San Fransico advocating bizarre ideas like "thin" large aperture primary mirrors, spiral wound waxed cardboard tubes and simple altazimuth wooden mounts. Advancements in manufacturing and mass-production techniques made Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes within reach of many amateur astronomers.
And then, some guy named Al Nagler, in the early 1980's, had the audacity to charge (gasp) $200 plus dollars for something called a wide-field eyepiece when a perfectly acceptable kellner could be had for around 20 or 30 dollars. A little more would get you an Orthoscopic. Who the hell did he think he was?!?
It is far more cost (and time) effective to buy a mirror than to buy the equipment and parts to make your own. A half-decent quality complete telescope can be purchased for under $500 something inconceivable in equivalent dollar value 30, 40 years ago.
What about Astrophotography? When CCD cameras first appeared, they were insanely expensive and for professional observatory telescopes only. Amateurs, if they were lucky, were using cold cameras or gas hypered film treated in specialized vacuum cylinders from a company called Lumicon. Then they would subject themselves to guiding the telescope during the exposure by keeping a star centered in the cross-hairs of a guiding scope using an expensive dual-axis drive corrector, mounted onto the main scope for anywhere from 20 minutes to sometimes up to one and-a-half hours, depending on the target and the emulsion being used. Then you took your chances getting your film developed along with wedding and baby pictures at the local one hour film developing lab. Or, you built your own dark room and learned how to develop your own film.
In the last 50 years, glass technology, coating technology, electronics and computer technology has come a long, long way.
So, long story short...is any one thing responsible for all the toys, gizmos and gadgets that we have all come to know and love? Yes...yes there is.."Imaginative Innovation". Please feel free to use that term until my copyright becomes legal...then you'll have to pay me for using it! LOL!
What an age we live in!