Sitting in a meeting with a potential client talking about ‘cloud’ technology I spied a manual typewriter displayed in a cabinet as a showpiece.
This took me back to when I started working at a building society and the days when I used a manual typewriter in the office.
Times and technology have moved on so much since then, and it makes me smile to think about the gadgets we used to use, which seemed revolutionary.
Hello? Is there anyone there?
Take the telephone, for example. They were large and had several buttons above the dial disc which we used to put someone on hold and transfer them. Ultimately, the caller was cut off as our two-inch nails could never quiet depress the buttons.
Dial-a-disc was my favourite on number 16, a quick way to listen to the latest chart music without my parents hearing the dialling motion.I recall at home having the first telephone of all my friends, which I hasten to add we wouldn’t have got had it not come with the house my parents bought. If you were clever enough you could use the buttons the receiver sat on to quickly ring a number, like Morse code.
The telephone was a privilege and not for entertainment!
Swiftly, the world moved onto keys as opposed to dial discs, so we all vied to be quickest off the draw, punching the numbers as fast as we could with the tip of our two-inch nails. Of course then no one had mobiles – if you were out, you just weren’t available.
Emails didn’t exist except for internal ‘mail’ which used your name and not an email address. Other than that, you wrote a memo, mainly by hand, with carbon copy paper between two sheets.
Which brings me back to where I came in… the good old Remington. The keys were stiff and again there was many a broken nail attempting to type fast. Once again, we used carbon copy paper and if we weren’t careful we had to use correction fluid. This was looked on as a misdemeanour, and nine times out of ten, the letter would be given back to us to retype.
I learned a trick of holding the backspace key while typing with one hand. When I released the key, I’d go and make a coffee, while the machine typed merrily away as if on its own.
Sometimes, it was great to sit there and pretend to be actually typing so that the supervisor thought you were very quick, thus you kept the typewriter on your desk for an extra day!
I was fond of typing, though I still hate Times New Roman for the electronic typewriter.
Photcopiers simply didn’t exist. If you needed an extra copy, you used another sheet of carbon copy paper. The only copier was a barrel, which you placed carbon paper on and turned a handle for a copy to come out.
To this day, I haven’t figured out how that worked!
Going PC mad
Computers were initially used for making transactions, never for word processing. Each night, we had to perform a back up from a server.
We used floppy disks the size of a 45rpm record… and they were floppy!
When computers were introduced, there was a great buzz of anticipation and excitement in the office. That wore off when people discovered how to copy you in on emails. Thus began the epic journey of trying to manage (not always successfully) your inbox and the terror of coming back to the office after a day away to 200-odd emails.
My first home PC was in Dos, just a green screen, and no one knew much about the internet at first – eventually, you used a modem which screamed like a cat in a fight and used your landline, which meant no one could ring you at home, while you were online.I remember the arrival of our first home computer – a Spectrum ZX, which you plugged into your television and then had to write a programme for from a PC magazine. It took me and my brother three days, with one of us reading the script and the other punching the keys.
When the moment came to run the programme, inevitably someone had made a mistake, so another day was spent going back through the script.
Eventually, on came a tennis game, with two cursors moving at the bottom of the screen. Success!
Mobiles today are sleek and small, but my first was the size of a brick and I never switched it on, just kept it for emergency purposes.
There was no Sim card, no big choices of networks, no coloured screens, finger swiping, games or texts. It just made phone calls.
New power generation
Compared to today, a lot of people of my generation have been dragged kicking and screaming to adopt the power of technology. It is technology that’s had the most culturally, socially, economically and psychologically radical transformation.
Yet, surprisingly, I read somewhere that this has been incepted and largely managed not by the ‘young but by the old’. The social media entrepreneurs may be younger, but their elders established the frameworks within which they operate.
While technology has improved our communication, it has to some degree taken away our power of conversation. We Tweet, we Facebook and we text, but when the home phone rings, we look at it in terror as if by answering it, we are going to explode!