What Did We Do Before Computers?
Iain Laskey considers how much things have changed without us noticing
The recent book review on creating 'digital crafts' got me thinking. What did we do before computers? How on Earth did we cope? There are so many daily tasks that seem almost unthinkable without the trusty PC to help.
Just yesterday we were having an after dinner chat and someone was musing about some aspect of another country. We weren't too sure so it was off to Google and within seconds we had the answer. Before the web we'd have had to either live in ignorance or find a library (on a Sunday?) and spend maybe an hour or so perusing books for the information. It's very easy to take for granted the huge amounts of information at our fingertips now.
Photographers who once had to rely on darkroom tricks, expertise in chemistry and lots of expensive equipment to get results can now rattle off digital images of stunning quality for next to nothing once the initial camera costs are factored out. With a cheap imaging tool like Adobe Photoshop Elements you can create all manner of wonderful effects and have levels of tonal control only available to the most well heeled and expert photographers.
Music? We used to think a walkman with a C90 tape was pretty impressive. Now we can pack 20,000 or more tunes in to an MP3 player that runs all day and maybe watch a movie on it too if the songs start to bore. My biggest problem is never having the time to listen to my favourite radio shows but now I can either subscribe to them in iTunes and listen to them on my daily commute or use the BBC's listen again feature which allows me to catch most of them up to 2 weeks after they've been broadcast. This is freedom! Want your own compilation CDs? Trivial and for those of us raised on vinyl, even more impressive - the idea of being able to produce compilations as good as the originals you bought from the shop. None of your tape hiss here. Even more impressive is the ability to listen to say a favourite radio show transmitted in a country on the other side of the world. Once upon a time only short-wave fans had that sort of power.
The book thing was interesting though. A home user would never have the ability to produce photo quality prints on to silk or transfers so a whole new world of creativity has been opened up for those who like to indulge in such things. Patchwork quilts? Pah! Now you can have a quilt with a member of the family on every square. Assuming that was your thing.
Banking? No more are we forced to queue for ages in a grubby banking hall just to change a standing order or check our balance. Now it can all be done in the comfort of your chair at home. You can even buy and sell shares, move your money about, analyse stock prices and get advice free of the pressures a financial advisor would put on you.
Shopping? It's all out there. I recently realised I hadn't actually entered a real shop for over two years. When I did wander into my local music shop, I couldn't believe how expensive CDs and DVDs were. People still pay these prices? It's no wonder the high street shops are starting to suffer. Heck, you can buy DVDs and CDs from the US and Canada cheaper than the high street shops charge and get them a few months ahead of schedule too.
For those with hectic social lives, email and the various flavours of Instant Messaging provide a great way to stay in contact plus of course the ubiquitous text messaging from mobile phones. Prior to that we were stuck with landlines or heaven forbid, writing a letter. For families, email provides a great way to stay in touch, no matter where in the world they live. It's great getting an email containing photos and a few pages of chatty prose about someone's trip, often mere hours after they've got back. It also saves you the once dreaded compulsory family slide show! That said, you may get sent a lovingly crafted DVD of all the holiday footage complete with captions, stills, running commentary and extra menus of related goodies so it's not all good.
What else? I no longer get troubled by the gas and electricity readers. I do it myself online. TV or Radio Times? How about a subscription to www.digiguide.com instead? Keep up to date with the zeitgeist via blogs, complain to (or praise) your MP online, search for that childhood toy you never thought you'd see again, the list is endless.
Just think back ten or fifteen years and consider how you did things then and how you do them now. I think you'll be surprised just how much has changed. Is it for the better? Only you can judge.