The twentieth century seemed like a revolutionary time for technology and it many ways it was. Yet there are many appliances and devices that endured the whole of the last century that my daughter will likely never use or own. I take a look through some of those everyday things that our children may simply be bewildered by.On a recent trip to the National Trust’s splendid Hughenden Manor we found ourselves in the Ice House, fitted out as it would have been during its use in the Second World War. All around were items that I instinctively recognised from growing up. They were older versions, certainly, but still immediately recognisable. I was about to point them out to my nearly 4 year old daughter Tilly when it struck me that she might not actually have the first idea about what they are, never mind how they worked.
A typewriter and a fixed line phone with a circular dial featured in the wartime room. I recall my school still offering typing classes on typewriters in the early 90s and we still had dial phones at home around the same time. Today, though, they’d be utterly unfamiliar objects. The more I thought about it, the greater the collection grew of once universal items that have become obsolete as our digital world drives change at an astonishing pace.
The more I thought about it, the greater the collection of once universal items that have become obsolete as our digital world drives change apace.
A home telephone
Long a household essential, we didn’t bother to plug in our landline phone when we moved a few years ago, preferring the managed interference of mobiles, which can easily be silenced (essential with a small child in the house). Tilly may recognise old style phones from the likes of books such as ‘Goodnight Moon’ but the concept of needing to know an dial a number, as opposed to choosing a contact would likely seem pretty alien these days.
A physical music collection
I was browsing for a new work desk a couple of months ago and was astounded that some still come with a CD rack as a feature. Not only has my most recent computer not included a ‘multimedia drive’, I don’t think I’ve owned a CD player for a good number of years. It’s a far cry from my days at Uni with a burgeoning CD collection. Yet even then the arrival of the Napster was an inkling that the writing would eventually be on the wall for physical music collections. Tilly does have a couple of audio discs that came with books but they’re played on the DVD player, in the absence of anything else to play them on. I can’t see it being long until the remaining CDs with children’s books become download options instead. Yes, Tilly will miss out the physicality of a music collection with its associated album art but on the flip side she’ll have access to the back catalogue of songs from throughout history for the cost of less than a new album a month.
Films you own on a disc
In a similar vein, I reckon that the movie industry is going to be further shaken up by the time Tilly and friends start purchasing their own film choices. I’ve never been big of rewatching films a lot with a few exceptions. As the streaming movie services mature, I suspect we’ll head towards more easily accessible purchases online or rentals. Internet speeds will need to keep up, mind, but I can’t see Tilly having stacks of DVDs in years to come.
I do own a clutch of Ordnance Survey maps for our area and also around where my parents live but over the past few years I’ve increasingly relied on the OS’s own mapping app. Physical maps do of course endure failing batteries but I wonder if the advances of portable devices and battery life will make downloaded mapping more of the default option within a few years. Should the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award endure longer than the Duke of Edinburgh, it is possible youngsters may still be trained in traditional orienteering skills for a while longer yet.
Most things that are printed
The printed press is I suspect held up by the older generations that have grown up with them. The younger generations, of which I (increasingly optimistically) count myself as a member, turn online for news, albeit often to the same sources. The need for news will undoubtedly continue but as readership of the printed press continue to nosedive it will be interesting to see what shape this takes in the future.
A printed encyclopaedia
My god, how ignorant we used to be. If we didn’t know something, we could check the books in the house – principally the encyclopaedia and failing that, short of visiting the library or writing a letter somewhere you’d normally have to remain pondering whether it was you didn’t know without resolution. Today there’s Wikipedia and online resources without number on seemingly every topic under the sun. A printed collection of instantly dated facts seems like a pointless novelty for the online generation.
TV listings magazines
We are one of those households that still persists with the ritual of buying the Radio Times once a year for its bumper Christmas edition (although were you, like us, a bit miffed it didn’t include New Year this time?!) While TV channels with their fixed schedules look to be around for a while yet, the electronic programme guides (EPGs) of digital TV leave a big dent in the need for TV listings magazines. Tilly already consumes a good deal of her TV content on demand, either prerecorded, downloaded on demand or streamed. The nostalgia for an unwieldy attempt to collect what’s on the telly that my generation is just and so holding onto will be completely absent from hers. Intelligent programme selection, led by the likes of Virgin Media, Sky and the streaming services will almost certainly mean that our future habits will be better informed and less reliant on skimming and effective use of a highlighter pen.
Anything that needs manually tuning
The days of analogue TV are already over and while FM and AM radio persist a while longer, the notion of having to manually tune in stations or indeed do pretty much anything in a rather vague analogue way using a dial is probably something that will have gone by the time our children are choosing their own media. Good riddance to it. Trying to scan up and down the dial on the car radio for a station it refuses to ever find is enough to drive anyone off the road.
Good luck, Generation Z!
It’s certainly given me pause for thought about the sort of world my daughter will live in as an adult. While the changes from 1967 – 2017 seem great, they’re likely nothing compared to what 2017 – 2067 will see. Tilly’s great-grandparents talk about current times as being ‘another world’. Can’t help think that we might feel even more out to sea in our older age. On the plus side, hopefully our dotage will be all the more automated!