Sunday 23 July 2017

It wasn’t that long ago.....

My grandchildren accept modern technology as if it has always been with us.  Why shouldn’t they, it is what they have always known.  They are bemused by stories of life without television, computers and mobile phones.  Television came late to South Africa – in 1976 - so not only did I grow up without it but our children started off without it too. 

Somehow the leap from no television to more channels than one can count isn’t as extraordinary as what has happened to personal communication.

Living in Johannesburg we had direct dialling – no going through an operator as you had to in the country.  Direct dialling was however only within the city – to call another city we had to go through the long-distance operator.

When we first lived in London, calls between our family and us were rare.  Not only did you have to book them 48 hours in advance but the cost was prohibitive. Around 1967/8 I was earning £15.00 a week (before tax) and the cost of a telephone call was £1.00 a minute for a maximum of three minutes. That was a pretty good salary then. To put that into context, on a salary today of £300 a week (pretty much minimum wage) the relative cost would be £20 a minute. In emergencies you could get a call through in two hours as I found out when my mother called me to say that my father had died. 

Being able to call someone and see them “through the phone” was science fiction and for some reason we made the assumption that you would have to answer the phone even if you were in a state of undress.   Leap forwards to the present and I can speak to anyone anywhere for free through FaceTime, Skype etc and can see them as well and I don’t have to answer if I don’t want to and they can’t see me unless I do. Sophisticated conference calls take this to a new level which I can’t quite grasp.

I take for granted that I can call friends and family far afield instantly and if it is the middle of the night for them, can send an email to be responded to when they wake up. 

I remember in the 1980s when the tech industry was first working on voice recognition, it was slow and inaccurate and you wondered if they would ever get it to work.  Now I can ask “Alexa” to convert ounces into millilitres, tell me what is on my shopping list, switch to any radio station, give me a news update, the weather forecast for anywhere in the world and “read” a book to me.  No effort no thought, now normal.