When I was just a tiny bundle of pestilence, hardly anyone had a landline phone. Nobody had central heating except for schools and other public buildings. They ran it from a coke-fired boiler, usually, with massive cast-iron radiators. There are still a few of those around but there are few, if any, still in use.
Heating at home was a coal fire in the living room, cooking had just passed the ‘fire’ stage so we had a ‘proper’ cooker although the kitchen was heated in winter by firing up the old cast iron range. I don’t recall my mother ever using that for cooking. I remember being repeatedly warned to stay away from it.
I remember our first television. It had a tiny monochrome screen and it was in the kitchen. I’m not sure if that was because the ‘rabbit ears’ aerial only worked there or whether my parents didn’t want it in the living room. Anyway, we had it in time to watch the beginning of Dr. Who in 1963. It took about 50 more years, when I got those first episodes on DVD, before I realised that most of the Daleks were just painted on the walls.
My parents had a tape recorder. It was the size of a small suitcase and used big reels of tape. Nobody had a video camera, although I do remember ‘Super 8’ cameras that rolled a strip of film wheich then had to be developed and you needed a projector and screen to see it.
Still cameras used rolls of film that you had to wind forward to the next frame, then take it to the chemist to get it developed and printed. I still have cameras like that and fortunately I have darkroom equipment because finding a photographic shop that even recognises a roll of film is difficult now.
There was no way to record a TV program. If you missed it, you missed it. There weren’t too many of them anyway, and you had BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. That was it.
I remember the invention of cassette tapes. Then came those Walkman tiny portable cassette players. They were expensive, now they are museum pieces. Likewise the laserdisc, VHS and Betamax battle for recorded films. It was 1980 before I first saw a VHS player/recorder. I didn’t own one until 1985. Video cameras became available about that time, if you had a lot of money and a good strong arm to hold the thing. They became smaller over time until they disappeared altogether, to be replaced by hard-disk tiny videocameras.
I remember watching ‘Tomorrow’s World’, that old show about flying cars and monorail trains and all sorts of wonderful future machineries. The CD was the only thing they showed that actually came true, I think. The CD is long gone, replaced by the DVD which is soon to be replaced by Netflix and other streaming services.
Vinyl records fell to the CD and now we have music streaming services too. No more shelves of tapes or disks, you just tap in your selection and it plays.
All these things are now on your phone. You don’t need a bulky music system, just a Bluetooth speaker system linked to your phone. You can read books and watch films on your phone. You can have a camera at your front door so you can see who’s there – on your phone – even if you’re not home. You can control your heating remotely to warm up your house before you get home. You can even speak to other people with it if you can work out how. That’s a long way from the ‘press button A’ phone in the phone box I remember at the end of the street.
Is there a point to all this? Well, consider. In sixty years I have seen inventions come and go, I’ve seen the telephone move from a box at the end of the street to a device that does everything and which almost everyone has in their pocket. My starting point was fire as the only source of heat, now everyone is terrified of a wisp of smoke. I started when playing a song meant lining up a needle with a groove in a plastic disc, now it’s just a matter of tapping a few buttons and you can get the video too.
This, today, is the starting point for modern children. They will look at a floppy disc from the 1990s and think someone has 3D-printed the ‘save’ icon. When I started life, computers cost millions and filled whole rooms and had a tiny fraction of the computing power of a cheap modern phone. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX-81 in 1981 and you had to type in programs in BASIC then save them to cassette tape. It had a massive 16 kilobytes of memory. No internal or external drives, just the cassette.
Even that seemed amazing at the time. This tiny box held considerable computing power. Imagine how impressed I was with Amstrad’s later PCs, and those 2 Mb hard drives. Ten years after the ZX-81 I bought a 286 with 512 Mb internal memory and a 30 Mb hard drive. So much computing power, so much storage space! You couldn’t even get a modern operating system into it now. The advances in those ten years – and since – have been incredibly fast.
Anyone remember daisywheel printers? Basically, an electric typewriter linked to a computer. If you want a different font you have to change the typing wheel. Then dot matrix, then fantastically expensive laser printers, now you can get a colour printer with scanner and wifi so you don’t even need a wire… for about £30. Sometimes it’s even cheaper to buy another printer than to replace the ink cartridges.
Think about the world you started in and then consider what modern children are starting with. To them it’s normal to have a supercomputer in their pocket. They will grow up with the normality of contactless payments with their cards. That’s a step too far for me, I don’t like it, but to those young now it will be normal.
They will look at vinyl records and record players in museums and marvel at the primitive sound systems of the ancient past. They will scoff at the way ancient peoples had their film and music collections on separate discs instead of having it all available to anyone, any time. They will not understand how we could have filled our houses with books when all they need do is tap in a title and read it on screen. We will become the Ancient Ones in a couple of decades, possibly while we are still alive.
They will not understand how all those things can be restricted, censored and changed at any moment, while the fixed versions could not be.
They will delight in getting those chips implanted. I would absolutely refuse any kind of chip implant for any reason. If I worked somewhere that required I be chipped to, say, open a security door, I’d want to know what happens if I move to another job. Do they dig it back out? I can easily hand back security cards, I cannot easily hand back an implanted chip.
To the modern child though, it will be normal. As they grow, they will have everything implanted. It will not seem at all sinister or strange to them. Why risk losing your contactless card? Have it implanted. That, I think, is where it will start but not where it will end.
So, how far fetched is the world of Panoptica? How far fetched is the medichip that transmits your medical information, including mood, to a central monitor? Can it ever happen?
It’s already begun.
Meanwhile, in China … pic.twitter.com/FQVMTK85D7— Tony (@Mrtdogg) May 9, 2020
If I have that right, clicking on the video should play it here.
The children see nothing wrong with wearing those headbands except that they are uncomfortable. Implanted chips will solve that problem.
There are so many other things that today’s children are being brought up to see as normal. Adults rebel against these things but to a child, it’s just part of their world. They will accept it. They won’t know any other world. Just as I could not know the world of my grandmother, born before the invention of the automobile, never mind the Wright Brothers. She saw the world move from horses to cars to planes to landing on the moon. I suppose every generation will see an equivalent massive shift in humanity’s abilities – and moralities.
I wonder what the children will see? And I wonder whether it will be good or bad.
No competition this time, I still can’t get to a post office to send the prize from the last one. So here’s the answer.