Monday 23 August 2010


A report in the news last week highlighted that the average Briton spends half their waking hours consuming some sort of media. Not only this, but in the seven hours available the equivalent of nine hours is fitted in by multi-tasking... watching TV and surfing the web at the same time, for example. I find this utterly unsurprising. I often sit with my laptop (or iPhone) whilst watching TV... and spend very little time during the day not using some sort of media - be it TV, internet or iPhone.

What always amazes me is how so much has changed in so little time. Growing up things were very different.

When I was a very small child (we're talking late 70s/early 80s) we had one telephone in our house, it was an old bakelite type that lived in the front hall. There was no scope for using the phone anywhere else in the house (other than as far as the cord would stretch from the incoming point). The TV set (which lived in the sitting room) was a massive affair, not really the screen but the cabinet that it lived in; when you wanted to watch it some time needed to be factored in to warm it up first... and there was a choice of three channels. There was the radio too... and amazing one that live in a side-board type construction which a record player, or a small portable one in the kitchen, MW or LW only.

By the mid 80s the number of TV channels had risen to four. Our house now had two telephones (achieved by a second point installed upstairs) although you were still limited by how far the cable would reach. The stereo system had gone upright, and included a cassette tape deck and radio on LW, MW and FM. The cabinet TV had finally died and been replaced by a more modern unit, with a VHS video attached. It was around this time that computers came into our lives too. Our first was an Atari... a keyboard with a cartridge slot and a joystick. No hard drive, although you could write programmed to cassette tapes!

You can see from the above that my family were always slow technology adopters. Things like TVs and computers only got replaced when they ceased to function, not just for the joy of upgrade.

Towards the end of the 20th century the number of terrestrial channels in the UK rose to five; although it took some time for the fifth channel to be nationally accessible. Telephone handsets were now going cordless which meant you were no longer limited by how long the cable was, although if you wanted more than one handset you still needed extra points. Satellite and cable TV were now expanding viewing horizons (although not in my house) and PCs were now relatively common (although not at this point affordable) - and if you wanted the internet you used a dial-up modem. Portable music was either a walkman (cassette version) or a portable CD player - CD players having joined the hi-fi stack. Mobile phones had been around for a while by this point although mostly for business purposes; now just beginning to become popular for personal use. 
Somewhat out of character for my family but my dad was an early adopter of mobile communication. First of all he'd had a pager... remember those - you called a number and left a message and the recipient dialled in to collect their messages (kind of like voicemail). He then had a car phone... a mobile phone that is stuck in the car - but pretty good handsfree technology! He even had a mobile phone... one of those great big bricks, that was barely portable.

So into the 21st Century. Everyone has a mobile phone, and most people take them everywhere and never switch them off. Landlines are not longer limited by sockets but consist of several cordless handsets communicating with a base unit. For music vinyl and cassettes are pretty much history... even CDs are less popular as MP3 files on computer and MP3 players on the go are pretty much universal. The five terrestrial TV channels now compete with a host of other channels on cable, satellite and freeview - and TV is going digital. Radio is digital too - you no longer need a physical radio, the TV set and computer can now do the same job. Computers and laptops are affordable and common place, connection to the internet is rarely dial-up but now 'always on' broadband. DVD players (and now Bluray) have killed the video player  but if you don't want to rent/buy movies you don't need either as your satellite, freeview or cable box will record to a hard drive.

In the 21st century you can make phone calls on a computer, listen to the radio on your TV and do just about anything with a mobile phone. Technology is a wonderful thing - now wonder we spend half our lives attached to it!