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.


A special thing…


English: Untidy Desk

English: Untidy Desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but when I walked into the Rose and Crown one Saturday afternoon clutching a thick tome all about Active Server Pages (ASPs), my life was to change yet again. The place was nearly empty save for two gentlemen sat on stools at the other end of the bar. I ordered a drink, opened up my book and started reading. Despite concentrating on the vagaries of Internet programming, I could not help but overhear snippets of their conversation. Apparently, they had been out on a company bash the night before and were a little the worse for wear.

Before too long, one of them looked over and enquired about my book – “What’s that – a computer book?” or something equally eloquent. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, the conversation turned to my professional life as they asked what I did for a living. Although I had enjoyed 6 excellent years at Pentyre, the work had started to dry up and I was intrigued when the two men started to talk about the company they worked for. Although their description of the company did not sound that exciting – what intrigued me was the passion they felt for their work.

I agreed to come along for an interview to find out more and a few days later, I was back in the Rose and Crown, the chosen venue. Arrayed in front of me was pretty much the entire company. As I sat there nervously, I was bombarded with questions from my would be colleagues. All of them shared the passion I had seen in the first two men. The company was called jBASE and had recently been acquired by another larger software house; Temenos (a Greek word meaning “a special thing”).

They liked me and I liked them and I readily accepted their offer of employment. Before too long, on my first day, I turned up at their offices. I had been given no directions, but managed to find my way to the top floor where I found a locked door. Before too long, someone else came along. Another recent joiner. Neither of us had the key, so we stood there chatting. Eventually, the door was unlocked and we were led into the office. The place was an absolute tip. There were computers everywhere. Some of them on people’s desks, some piled up haphazardly and a number of them atop a pool table which bowed disconcertedly under the strain.

There was not an inch of clear desk space in the building and I was led to my own cluttered desk. I was introduced to my new boss. I could barely see him behind piles of ageing computer manuals and printouts. As I logged into my machine – an email popped up. “Hi – my name’s Jason – I am sat opposite you!”. It was a sign of things to come as the only sounds in the office were the tapping of keyboards and the loud hum of fans straining to substitute for air conditioning.

Although it sounds dysfunctional – it was an amazing company to work for. In the early days we were an autonomous company, but as time went on we became assimilated into our parent company Temenos. Although Temenos was a larger company, they had much in common with jBASE. Passion was evident throughout the organisation. Being very entrepreneurial in nature, process and procedures have always lagged somewhat behind the relentless drive for growth. By any conventional measure, Temenos has been a phenomenally successful company and I have enjoyed working there immensely.

By far the most dynamic organisation I have worked for, Temenos is not for everyone. If you are looking for a job where you are told exactly what to do – you had better look elsewhere. If you want to become a force for transformation in the banking industry, look no further.