April 27, 2008

Phoning through the past

This video is incredible- because it illustrates how quickly the world has changed in the 20th Century. Dial tone phones are of course now a thing of the past. In the 1930s when this video was made, in the UK there were still single numbers- London 1 etc- telephones had just exploded to becoming a consumer product, like the internet of today. Phones have of course become a standard consumer product- about possibly to be replaced by Skype and other things like it.

But they have done so incredibly quickly- the pace of technological development means that the lives that we live today in so many aspects- including the one I'm typing on to you now and the fact you are reading this online- would have been unrecognisable to our parents, let alone our grandparents when they were growing up. Someone who was born in 1920 will have lived through the rise of the car, the rise of the washing machine, the rise of the computer and the rise of the internet. Just think about that for a moment- and one of the central differences between our century and the past becomes clear. A medieval peasant could say between 1200 and 1400 be pretty confident that though there were changes in the way he farmed, his grandparents would understand them. For us though, how would you explain to your great grandparents (who as mine did died at some point before the second world war) how the internet works. Just imagine for a second how much change, if the girl in the video is still alive (and probably in her late seventies, early eighties now) she has seen.

Its an interesting thing to think about: because coping with technological change has suddenly become so much more important. Kids do because they are born to an era with the current systems: but for the rest of us, the fact that we learn so much when we are children is no longer adequate. We have to keep learning as adults just in order to keep up with the ways that communication and life are changing- that produces the stress of adults who have to learn how to program Sky Plus (Tivo for Americans) and work out HTML.

The world is changing and that means that we have to change the way that we learn- its no longer ok just to learn as a kid, welcome to the world which changes so fast that even adults are ignorant.


Des said...

This video sure brought back memories, however I was always worried should you be in a situation where help was needed fast - waiting for the dial to return to its position before dialing the next number was never fast enough in my eye.

Gracchi said...

Yeah it brought back my childhood to be honest.

Matthew said...

I was telling a 9yr old how to use one of those the other day, and as I was trying to dial my mobile phone number I realised that the numbers are just too long now. It took me about 2 mins of dialing.

Technological change has been much faster in the 20th century and 21st than before, but there's some debate about whether it has been faster in the last few decades than before. The case for is technology such as the internet and mobile phones, but the case against is that these pale in comparision to trains and cars and radio/TV. Does a person today in a big city live more differently from a person in the 1930s as they did from the same in the 1860s?

I suppose the all-encompassing measure would be output per head, which did accelerate from about 1850 and then again in the post-war period but has come down a bit recently.

Semaj Mahgih said...

I think we would be able to explain the internet but it would seem like science fiction.

There is still dial tone phoning over here.

James Hamilton said...

You could have an interesting argument about which generation lived through the most dramatic change - my own bet would be those born c. 1875, who, had they seen their telegram from the Queen, would have seen the appearance of the telephone, the typewriter, the electric light, the car, the machine gun, flight, modern medicine in toto, radio, television and professional sport, to name but a few.

I had been considering getting a refurbed bakelite dial phone - that point about the sheer length of modern telephone numbers has just changed my mind.

Political Umpire said...

Well I occasionally think about my great aunt (1899-1997) who was born before the Wright brothers, before the car became anything much more than a novelty and died nearly 20 years after man made it to the moon, as well of course as after the internet.

cristina costa said...

Interesting! How far we have already gone... and still how displeased we sometimes become when technology fails down on us!
Such movie would br unthinkable in this age.Our kids just learn how to operate techy stuff even before it is out of the box. It just comes so natural to them. How they handle mobile phones and master most of the less used features of a given device is just amazing.Still, in schools we hang big signs on the walls reminding them such technologies are NOT allowed as if they weren't part of everyone's daily life, and learning process too.
I still remember when my parents got their 1st phone.It was ugly, dark green and it certainly didn't match with the living room, but no one really cared ;-).It already had buttons!!It was quite an innovation for that time.It was one of the most recent acquisitions in the neighborhood. And just to think that today we no longer have a family phone in the living room.Each one of us carries one in their pocket!