Do you remember when we used to telephone a friend or a business colleague?
That’s if you had a phone. We were fortunate to have one – they were hard to obtain just after the World War II. But, as my Dad was involved with a number of activities such as being secretary of the chess league, secretary of the Lay Readers’ Association, substitute organist at our church, besides being a school teacher, he was able to get one. None of my friends’ parents had phones. Even my dear Beryl’s parents, whose father was a principal in a school, had no phone. This was 1946 and just after World War II in England. Beryl tells me that her parents did not get a phone until after she had gone to university. Wow! Doesn’t that seem unreal? My grandkids just cannot understand a world in which there were no telephones.
What it meant in reality for me was that if I wanted to go out and play with one of my friends, I had two options: get on my bike and go to see if he was home; or, stay at home and wait to see if he was going to come and visit me. So, we used to pre-plan and arrange when we were going to play, where we were going to play, at his house or mine, or whether we would get a group of us together to play soccer or cricket, depending on the season. Later, when we were teens, during summer, at almost any time, we could go to the church tennis courts and find someone to play.
And we used to write letters longhand, or cursive, as it is called today. Something which schools are now abandoning. I had a toy typewriter which had a rotating centrepiece, made of lead on which the letters of the alphabet were set; lower case on the upper row and upper case on the lower row. You rotated the wheel to the desired letter, then struck a key (note the two keys, one on each side of the wheel) which launched the wheel forward to strike the carbon ribbon. The letter was then imprinted on a sheet of paper you had inserted on a roller. The keys shown in the picture were fake and merely made it look like a typewriter. I got pretty speedy at whipping the wheel around to the correct place and wrote letters to aunts, grandparents – and my parents.
I first was introduced to the beginnings of modern communication technology in 1956 when Beryl and I immigrated to Moose Jaw, Canada. My first job immediately on arriving, found for me by a friend, was as newscaster from 6pm until midnight on “CHAB Moose Jaw, 800 on your dial.” In those days, as newscaster, you were also the news editor and I would have to review the teletype (TTY) or Telex machines
to see what news Associate Press, Reuters or Canadian Press had sent out and, if any of significance, cut it out of the paper roll and clip it together with other snippets, (the origins of cut and paste), which I would then go to the microphone every half hour and read. It was also my job to insert local news on the AP or CP machines, each having its own network requiring a different TTY.
It was not until several years later, after Beryl and I had moved to Winnipeg, that I found myself writing editorial satirical verse for the Winnipeg Free Press, that I bought a typewriter for myself. I believe it cost twelve dollars.
After moving to Montreal in 1974, we bought one of the original Atari gaming computers. It had PacMan and other games, including one simulating star wars-type planes battling each other. Our children loved it. I loved it.
In 1978, I parted ways from my employer: Beryl and I incorporated Melanber Inc. as an independent Risk Management consulting firm and we very soon realised we
needed a good typewriter. So we bought a Royal. It really wasn’t so different from my toy typewriter: instead of a rotating wheel, it had a rotating and pivoting typeball. However, there were a number of different balls, quickly and easily exchangeable, allowing you to use different fonts within the same document. Another innovation, pioneered by the IBM Selectric, I believe, was that the paper stayed still and the ball moved across the paper. And, of course, the machine was powered by electricity, so it was really pretty fast at typing.
Two years later saw us spending an enormous sum, close to ten thousand dollars for a newly introduced Xerox 820-II computer and daisy wheel printer. From the picture alongside, note that beneath the monitor is a box with two slots: one for the Operating System, which was a brilliant one, far better than Windows, called CPM (Control Program/Monitors and later “Control Program for Microcomputers”), and the other slot for Wordstar, a word processing program, or Supercalc. a forerunner of programs like Excel. Many a night, Beryl stayed up printing a 50-page report. When I may have typed a word in, say, italics, a code would stop the printer, the daisy wheel would have to be changed and then changed back again after printing the one word to the original font.
In those days, we knew a lot about computers and programs. Things began to change.
The world started to change: computers became faster and able to manage data much more efficiently. And then came the mobile phone. While the TV series, Get Smart, popularised the shoe phone, the Germans produced mobile phones for the use of its rail and mail service and offered first class passengers mobile phone service in the mid-1920s. During WWII, the military used mobile phones and some American cars were installed with mobile phones in the 1940s, but these were bulky and the network could hold only three or so conversations simultaneously.
Motorola produced the first popular and more user-friendly mobile phone in 1973, but it weighed 1.1kg and was 23cms long. Hardly a truly mobile phone. But look where phones have come since then.
Today, the smartphone is a mini-computer and, while I have been able to master some of the apps which are on my phone, I have to call one of our grandchildren to find out how to work Twitter and how to use hashtags. I had no clue. Just watch how a 5-year old manages a small handheld video game. There is no way I can use one. I have absolutely no idea of how video games work. Mind you, I really have no interest in them since my Atari became dinosauric in technology criteria. It’s still in our basement, so maybe I should go and bring it up and see if I have progressed or regressed. I think I know which it would be!
And that 5-year old will still be smarter than I.