Someone paid me a “back-handed” compliment the other day, telling me that “for my age” I was above average with social media and online comms. I laughed, but then took some serious consideration to see if I thought it was an accurate assessment.
Starting with the age element, I have mentioned before that I am a digital immigrant – and can well remember life without any forms of digital communication whatsoever. In fact I remember our home phone being connected to a local telephone exchange, with any outside number being connected by the operator. I still remember the excitement of being allowed to dial 0 and wait for the response “Operator, what number please?”
The operators were female and lived locally, and it’s hardly a leap of the imagination to suggest that they were suspected of eavesdropping on calls. Intermittent clicks on the line did nothing to disabuse people of this rather unkind notion.
In the early seventies we moved with the times and invested in an ultra-modern Trim phone (Tone Ringer Illuminated Model Phone) with its very distinct warbling ring tone and illuminated dial. I have also just learned (courtesy of a Google search) that this aspect of the design was subsequently dropped because of concerns over a small amount of radioactive gas in the luminous glass tube. That is perhaps some knowledge and information that I didn’t want to uncover at the stroke of a key!
At the start of my working life in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties I encountered manual typewriters, carbon paper, typewriter erasers, correcting fluid, fax machines, teleprinters, electronic typewriters, golfball tyepwriters, comptometer machines, photocopiers with and without sorting capability, litho printers and stencil printers. Even creating that list has reminded me just how labour intensive and inefficient many office processes were.
Perhaps having experienced the vagaries of these various machines gives me a different perspective on today’s technology. Imagine meticulously typing a 20 page report with 3 carbon copies, and then having to insert a paragraph or make some critical changes to page 4! This would require a complete retype from page 4 onwards.
Every time I perform a cut and paste in Microsoft Word, a small part of my brain marvels at the speed, efficiency and ease of the process.
And what of the current situation? I can scarcely imagine what the past year would have been like without the myriad online means of communicating, acquiring, processing and sharing information, shopping and working. At the macro level it has enabled global knowledge sharing on an unprecedented scale, one example being the ability to create vaccines in record-breaking time.
Is necessity the mother of invention? Would I have seen a need to use Zoom were it not for work purposes? I was already a regular user of WhatsApp with family and friends, and love the immediacy of messages, video calls and photo sharing. But since the pandemic I have become familiar with Teams, Zoom, HubSpot, Dropbox, Slack and am also comfortable with Facebook.
Online food shopping and home delivery have been of incalculable benefit over recent months, and I have watched with interest as the supermarkets constantly adjust and flex their models to meet customer needs. It's also so easy and convenient to consume content on streamed multi-media platforms, and download books and music for education and enjoyment.
In the home too I make use of gadgets, with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connecting a range of audio-visual items, and for cooking I am a great fan of my Instant Pot using its UK Facebook group for recipes, hints and tips.
As a child I remember our old pressure cooker and its occasional unpredictability resulting in a torrent of steam escaping, or on one memorable occasion its entire contents of mince and potatoes! The Instant Pot is basically an electronic pressure cooker but with added safety elements compared to the old stove-top versions – and it does make a fabulous pot of soup.
On 21 November I spent the day at the Cove and Kilcreggan Annual Book Festival. Hosted by MyVLF I sat engrossed, listening to authors discussing their latest books on a hugely diverse range of topics being interviewed by skilled, thoughtful and insightful chairs. I attended in person last year, and whilst virtual could never replace the buzz and excitement of a live event – not to mention the much-talked-about home baking – it was nevertheless a great event, and made me smile, laugh, reflect, ponder and shed a tear.
The authors taking part were Sally Magnusson, Peter Geoghegan, Alan Johnson, Clare Hunter, Kirsty Wark and Peter Ross. Pre-recorded interviews were instantly accessible, and each author was available to answer questions and chat with their online audience in real time. The lack of home baking is offset by the virtual event being available to watch on demand. Congratulations go to the Cove and Kilcreggan Burgh Hall for having the foresight to host a virtual event, and to all the participants for making it so worthwhile.
So, back to my original question – am I above average in my use and ability of social media and online comms compared to my peers? I think my usage is partly determined by availability, but my enthusiasm for it is driven by really understanding its value in terms of efficiency, scale, scope and speed.
On balance I’ve decided that it’s down to my natural curiosity and love of multi-tasking! Without it how would I have managed to make my Instant Pot soup today, whilst simultaneously video-chatting with my daughter and grandson and downloading an audiobook to my phone?
However, below is a cautionary quote, written well before the advent of the internet.
Technology is a useful servant, but a dangerous master.
Christian Lous Lange 1869 - 1938
Stay safe, take care