It struck me the other day that I have been working for over 25 years and in my lifetime so far, I have seen an incredible amount of technological change. When you think about all the changes in communications, entertainment, transport & media, it makes your head spin.
As kids we used to listen to vinyl records. Occasionally, we might transfer the songs on those vinyl records to cassette tape so that we could make compilations of songs we liked or so that we could listen to them in the car. I would venture to suggest that there is a sizeable number of people alive today who wouldn’t recognise either of these two modes of listening to music. Vinyl records gave way to compact discs, but when was the last time you bought a compact disc ? I certainly can’t remember the last one I bought.
The TV we watched at home used to be black and white. It used to take an absolute age to warm up so for a long time, you only heard the audio. When you turned it off, the picture slowly disappeared down to a central white spot as bright as a pulsar before finally winking out leaving the screen slate grey. The screen was far from flat, it bulged out into the front room like Big Brother’s eyeball and the TV was so deep, it was roughly the same kind of proportions as the fridge.
The buttons were of the mechanical push the new one in and the old one pops out kind of touch. You had mysterious settings like vertical hold and horizontal hold and you had to tune the thing in which involved a screwdriver. When we moved once, our new house had six channels – that was twice as many as we had in the previous house. I suspect that if you exposed children to that kind of environment today, they would be on the phone to childline before you had retuned the TV.
My Uncle Nobby once showed me an Irish phone box during one of our trips to Ireland. It had a handle that you used to wind and wait for the operator to answer. You then told the operator which number you wanted and they would put you through. I thought that the whole thing was terribly antiquated because at home, you could ring anyone in the world.
Number by number, you would stick your finger in the dial and drag it round to the stop and patiently wait for the dial to slowly return to rest. The whole process would take about a minute to a minute and a half for a long number. I used to remember phone numbers – I still remember nan and grandad’s (01793 724159) mainly because I remember the way nan used to sing the number out whenever anyone called the house. How many numbers can you remember today?
When I was given a pager by my company, I thought I was the bee’s knees. I could be contacted anywhere in the UK. Whenever you had a message, the thing would beep and buzz and you found a landline and called a special number to speak to someone who read out your message. Typically the message would be to phone someone else, so you would have to write the number down before ringing off so that you could make another call. My next pager had an LCD display where the actual message was displayed. Whoever was leaving the message still had to phone up and speak to an operator, but at least it was progress.
Cars in those days routinely had no power steering, no power assisted brakes and no electric windows. They routinely only had four gears (or three if the car was an automatic). Many cars had plastic seats. Unless you drove a Volvo or maybe a Saab, they were pretty much death traps. Crash testing was in its infancy, so there wasn’t much effort put into crumple zones unless you owned an old British Leyland car which would probably spontaneously crumple all on its own.
I remember when I was given my first camera. It was a Kodak brownie which like all cameras of the era took film that you had to load into the back. Mine could take up to 24 pictures which you then had to get developed which meant putting the film into an envelope and posting them off. When they came back a week or two later, it would be your first look at the photos you had taken.
When you are living through it, technological change seems to pass agonisingly slowly. It is only when you look back at how things were not so very long ago, you realise how quickly things evolve. It is this pace of change which makes me so excited about what will happen over the coming decades.
I am incredibly excited by the smart goggles under development by Google. Pretty soon, I won’t be handing over the cost of an iPad to my optician ever couple of years. I will have some electronic glasses that will automatically adjust to my degrading vsion. Not only that – but I will see the whole world in augmented reality. If as they suggest that they will be able to make these available as contact lenses – I think the whole world will start to wear them regardless of their state of vision.
I am also incredibly excited about the low barriers to entry that we see everywhere. Want to publish a book – no problem go right ahead. Want to make a film – as Iron Sky has shown, you can crowd source your investment and away you go. There has never been a better time to start a business. In a matter of hours, you could have your own website with umpteen different ways to pay and you could get your wares in front of potentially anyone.
I think the pace of change can only accelerate.