I remember a time, not TOO long ago, when we first lived in New Zealand as a newly married couple, far from our families back in England. It was 1960, and a lot of the major changes that were about to take place hadn’t happened yet.
Take the telephone for instance. I mean the REAL telephone, the one that did just one job, handling calls between two people! There came a time when Jacqui, (the missus), wanted to telephone her Mum back in England, to tell her in person some good news about the impending arrival of a new family member.
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In 1960 we had to book to make the call, some weeks ahead, and we were only allowed a limited time (about five minutes I seem to recall). Then, when the fateful evening arrived and we were connected, the whole thing was pretty close to a disaster! For a start, the sound quality was abysmal. It was just like talking (or rather shouting actually, talking wasn’t loud enough) down a very long, very echoing tunnel, sort of a “Hello, ello, lo, o” effect. Then, once we’d learned to interpret the echo and the vital bit of news had been passed, all anyone could think of to say was such mundane sentences as “What’s the weather like there?”, “How’s Dad?”, “Is the dog still OK?”, and other idiotic questions. A total waste of what was an expensive exercise in those days!
Compare that to today. We have a daughter still living in the UK and we chat to her at least once a week using Skype. It’s a video call, so the effect is that we are all sitting in the same room and there is no embarrassing loss of things to say, any more than there would be if she were here with us. The sound and vision are pretty near to perfect, especially as we are fortunate enough to have a sixty centimetre screen on our computer plus a sound system with a bass-booster. Above all, the call costs us nothing apart from the standard price of our system and connection to the internet, which we’d be paying anyway, Skype or not!
And don’t forget to all intents and purposes, the computer itself was a long way from arriving in 1960! The best I could do then was a pocket calculator that just did the basic math of add, subtract, multiply and divide. It cost the equivalent of about $40, you know, the sort of thing that’s given away free when you buy twenty litres of petrol these days! Now, even the highly sophisticated calculators that sprang from that early model are obsolete themselves, superseded by iPads and other wonderful machines, most of them a great deal cleverer than me!
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And the telephone itself too! If my parents were to suddenly return from the grave today, they would be stunned and wouldn’t even recognise the flat little tablet as a telephone at all! The phone is now just about as clever as an iPad and contains much more computing power than the one that first took men to the moon. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I was told that even my wristwatch comes into that bracket as well, things are leaping ahead at such a pace.
Of course, as usual, there is another side to all this discovery. The number of jobs lost for instance, due to mundane repetitive work being taken over by computers, the number of books now published electronically instead of old fashioned print and the number of kids not getting proper exercise because they spend all their time playing electronic games instead of getting outdoors!
But then, I suppose this is what we call ‘progress’, I just wonder sometimes, where it’s going to lead us!
Image: H is for Home