Life without the internet

Current Canadian Yellow Pages logo.

Current Canadian Yellow Pages logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thirty years ago, most people shopped in the town in which they lived. They might have made the occasional foray further afield and they might have made use of mail order catalogues, but the chances are that the goods that were available to them were limited to what was in the local vicinity. If they wanted to find something, they would reach for the yellow pages that sat under the phone and look for suppliers of that product or service. Once located, they would “let their fingers do the walking” and phone the number listed using their landline.

Taking out a loan or a mortgage meant hopping on a bus into town to visit your not so friendly bank manager. Rates weren’t advertised like they are today so unless you had seen a comparison article in a recent newspaper, the chances of the being clued up about the market were minimal. Besides which, people tended to be very loyal to their bank.

Credit cards were not common so the majority of transactions would be paid by cash or by using a cheque backed by a cheque guarantee card. Cashpoint machines or ATMs were still relatively rare and you were limited to the machines in your bank’s network (which often ran out of money). Most people still went into the branch to withdraw money. The teller would not have a computer, but they would have a naughty list. If your name was on the list, you were unlikely to get your money and were often invited for a bit of friendly financial advice from the bank manager.

Social networks tended to revolve around churches, pubs or places of education. Social interactions would be face to face or over the telephone. For friends and relatives lying further afield, a handwritten letter was the order of the day and everyone allowed 28 days for delivery of anything delivered through the postal system.

If you wanted to know what was going on in the world, you read a newspaper. Booking a holiday meant visiting a shop called a travel agent where you looked through brochures and selected your ideal destination. The assistant would then book it using the phone. Avid readers would pack a stack of paper backs. Music enthusiasts would pack a Walkman together with a pile of cassette tapes.

Schools were unlikely to have computers and if they did, they would not be connected up to other computers. Computer science was a niche subject. Most computing was done overnight. The results would be printed off onto huge piles of paper which would then be processed manually the following day.

It’s fair to say that the Internet has revolutionised the way we socialise. It has also fundamentally changed the way we research and buy products and services. There is a downside to this. Many traditional bricks and mortar businesses have crumbled as the internet as rendered their business model quickly obsolete. The upsides though are hard to ignore. Within seconds, any product or service can be located and purchased no matter how obscure or where it is made. Individuals can start companies, raise capital, publish books, form friendships and find the answer to just about any question in the world.

In my view, we are only scratching the surface. As more open data initiatives take off and the semantic web takes shape, the online possibilities are likely to explode and I for one can’t wait.

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