As a prelude to a series of pre-Christmas articles enthusing about the latest desirable technological must-haves, here is a reminder of how backward we were 30 or so years ago.
We all spend so much time running around that it is very easy to forget about how much technology has changed our working and playing lives in just a single generation.
Arguably, more has happened in the last 30 years to put a smile on people's faces even than in equivalent eras when, for example, cars and aeroplanes were seen for the first time.
If you were transported back in time to the early 1980s (Apple is developing that technology at the moment) you might be surprised to discover what got our ancestors excited.
Everybody watched television programmes at the time of broadcast on the four available channels. There were no repeat or satellite channels and the only way of recording a programme to watch later was on videotape. Even then, the picture quality was appalling.
If you wanted to make a telephone call while out and about, there were red boxes that occasionally contained working phones, while receiving one was impossible. Even at home, the telephone could only be used to speak to people who were actually in. Telephone answering machines existed but were rare.
To make a call abroad was possible with direct dial but the cost was prohibitive. Video recording or videoconferencing only existed on Star Trek.
If you wanted to send a communication to a friend or business associate, this would be achieved by means of a typed or handwritten letter. At a push, a telegram was an option and faxes might just about have existed.
In the field of accountancy, auditors worked with a raft of different coloured pens and books of account really were books. Legislation exclusively came in paper form and if you wanted to find a tax case, an older partner would have a complete set of 50 or more volumes dating back a century.
Harder to believe for younger readers, Tax Inspectors were based at the local office and answered the phone. They even provided prepaid envelopes for those who needed to respond.
The business was dominated by around 8 major firms, with no thought of consolidating into half that number.
Most offices of the better class would have contained a computer but few would have had more than a handful. Ridiculously underpowered monsters would typically be kept in a computer room and would fill it with comfort.
Typing was carried out on typewriters, although these were at least electric, while the most exciting office technology was likely to be the pocket calculator, although to afford one required deep pockets.
Televisions were gigantic, although the screens tended not to be, while a stereo system would be comprised of a large number of separate items playing radio, records and cassettes with two big speakers. Admittedly, these could sound pretty good but they would not surround you with sound.
Portable entertainment would not have been developed much beyond a transistor radio or large ghetto blaster, and the idea of watching movies on the move would have seemed as unlikely to our younger selves as the chance of reaching the moon to our grandparents.
The dictating machine and voice recognition software that are combining to create this article would have been replicated by a secretary with shorthand and typing skills.
It would also have been filed by post or even with national newspapers a copy taker (or person who wrote down your article as read over the phone). Ignoring pod and YouTube capabilities, magazines would then publish a week or more later.
The only football match shown live from start to finish in a typical year would have been the FA Cup Final. Otherwise, highlights of around three games might be seen on both BBC and ITV, hours or a day after the event. Fans would stand on the terraces and have a great opportunity, of which they would always avail themselves, to hit and stab each other.
On the golf course, Woods might just about still have been made out of wood, while putters would not reach the waist, rather than being attached to broom handles.
Cricketers wore white and test matches were always shown on the BBC (happy days).
Smoking was still permitted in offices and shops, as well as restaurants, pubs and even on aeroplanes.
The five pints at lunch brigade had a strong representation that always got back in time to put in a hard afternoon of work in the office. The odds were that they would also be the people who drove home at five o'clock, although drink/drive laws certainly existed.
Are We Better Off?
Most of us would believe that the technological advances of the last few decades have improved the quality of life immensely. The idea of Skyping the grandchildren in New Zealand or watching the latest movies on your telephone, prior to sending an e-mail to a client have got to be fantastic developments.
To counterbalance this, the demands made by e-mails where responses are required instantly and demand 24/7 (another new concept) availability are less desirable.
Somehow, despite all of this advance, the global economy is still in a terrible state and where previously, one would expect to retire at 60 or 65 depending on gender, this will hit 70 or more before too long. At least medical technology means that we have every chance of enjoying 20 or 30 years of retirement even after that.
Three questions emerge from this nostalgic look at our primitive recent past.
- What has been missed from this nostalgic overview?
- Would you turn back time?
- Where will we be in another 30 years?