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How technology has utterly transformed the world in my lifetime – Jim Duffy

I was flabbergasted this week as I walked around my little town in Fife. Why? Well, I came across a BT phone box.

Today's technology will doubtless look as dated as the BT phone box in Jim Duffy's village in Fife when his daughter is his age (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Today’s technology will doubtless look as dated as the BT phone box in Jim Duffy’s village in Fife when his daughter is his age (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Even writing the term phone box makes me raise an eyebrow. A phone box that still looked operational, maintained and pretty much free of vandalism. The question is – who in this day and age actually uses it to make calls?

On my return to the house, I chatted through the concept of a phone box to my Gen Z daughter who scoffed at the idea of standing in the cold in a glass cubicle pumping 20p pieces into a slot to make calls.

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How quaint and out of date, she mused. And at that point it hit me. Not only was I old, but technology has moved on so fast that the kids nowadays have no concept of my recent history, nevermind what Captain Sir Tom did in the war to give us what we have today. So, just what else did she not know about?

How about the concept of not having streamed music? I pointed out that we can sit in a room and tell Alexa to play Spandau Ballet’s greatest hits. She had no idea who they were too. Chuckle chuckle.

Amazon then find this music and plays it instantaneously. Quite literally anything from the Top Ten hits in the UK charts to Glen Campbell to U2. Amazing technology that today we take for granted, but only 40 years ago was an idea in a tech entrepreneur’s head. She hadn’t experienced Radio Luxembourg or trying to record the Top Ten on a Sunday night on the old “music centre” with a cassette tape. Remember hitting play and record at the same time? Yep, me too.

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How about the concept of a static telephone? Yes, a phone that sat in the hall on the phone table (how ridiculous). One had to use one’s finger to dial a phone number to another fixed land line, then hope the person was home, as there was no voicemail facility.

One phone in a house of say two adults and five teenagers was a major problem. The competition to use the phone to chat to girlfriends and boyfriends was immense, while parents shouted “get off that bloody phone” all night. Many a parent installed a little phone lock on the dialler, to spoil all the fun. And don’t even ask about ring-tones…

How about no supermarkets? I recall as a young boy the huge number of independent shops and, of course, the Co-op stores in our town. Numerous butchers, bakers, newsagents, confectionaries, furniture shops, clothing shops, off-licences all located along the main street. Now mostly gone, as one can shop the lot in a supermarket with free parking, shopping trolleys, cafes and of course phone shops offering tech as you buy your bread. The supermarket as a concept is taken for granted now, but only came to the fore in the 70s. Amazing how change catches up with you.

How about newspapers and magazines? My daughter can fire up her tablet and within seconds be on any newspaper website reading what this celebrity done in Dubai, while that one jetted off to Australia. There is 24/7 access to what is going on in the world via news and magazine websites.

And she has no idea that when I was 15 and working as copy boy for the Evening Times in Glasgow, the paper was rushed out the door once the compositors and subs had done their work and the printing presses had zoomed reams of paper through a rollercoaster of ink, then stuffed into a waiting army of vans who then distributed the newspapers around the city to vendors. It’s a concept that she cannot compute as it simply pops up on her screen now – on demand.

How about cash? Probably accelerated by the pandemic, we are on a steep downward slope to the demise of using cash. Forty years ago, cash-point machines were only just being introduced to banks.

Before then my mum had to go to the post office to get her family allowance money (much needed), then go to the bank to pay some stuff, while holding the rest in her purse. From here it would pay for shopping, lunch money, and my dad’s trips to the pub. It think he called 50p pieces his “swally tokens”.

No iPhones here with contactless terminals, using biometrics to instruct banks to pay for shopping at the supermarket. No cash now at the posh burger vans, who offer the portable terminal for your debit card. And simply one click on Amazon and we can buy almost anything and it is delivered the next day. I think Jeff Bezos deserves his retirement and his $197 billion.

It is so easy to forget just how far we have come as a result of technology and innovation coupled with the energy and foresight of entrepreneurs who have completely changed how we exist and interact with the planet. Not all for the better of course. But, I do believe that many of us are lucky in that we can still remember analogue “stuff” even though we live in the digital age now.

I guess when my daughter is in her 50s and I’m sitting in an urn on the mantelpiece, she will look back at how dated the current iPhone is, how silly Alexa was compared to what has replaced it, why anyone would go to a supermarket when it all gets delivered on demand and what were those thing called banks? Now replaced by decentralised finance, cryptocurrency companies.

And a whole new batch of tech entrepreneurs today thinking about how much better life can be in 40 years’ time. The new Jeff Bezos is sitting in a garage right now, planning it all in her head.

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