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Birjees Hussain: Life was interesting before
December 08, 2017
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Before the internet, before wifi and before mobile phones, how did we survive in our personal and professional lives? This was back in the mid to early nineties and before. Life was so different but we did not think it at all difficult.

Looking back and comparing it to how we conduct our lives today, it’s amazing how we managed to get things done. But we are naïve. We think that all this technology is doing all the work but how wrong we are. Technology is only making us work more quickly but not always more accurately.

Back in the mid-90s very few of us had mobile phones and those who did have the basic handset, without all the additional paraphernalia we see today, were stared at in awe. We just couldn’t believe that you could make calls on the go no matter where you were. But back then there was indeed one problem about not having a phone that we did not realise until today. A loved one goes out of the house for whatever reason and we had no way of getting hold of them to find out if they were ok, where they were or when they’d be coming home. Can you imagine experiencing this not-knowing feeling now?

Today, if someone doesn’t answer their phone or their phone appears off, we get agitated. Imagine not being able to call simply because there’s nothing to call to? Even at work if a member of staff went out to a meeting, both the office and the staff member would be incommunicado unless the staff member needed to touch base in which case he would have had to go to a phone booth.

And this was just telephone communications. Imagine how we managed without email at work! Firstly we did have PCs but they were really glorified typewriters. (By the way I still miss the loud tapping of the typewriter keys and that mechanical sound as you physically pushed the so-called cursor back to the beginning of the page.)

Back then the only thing the PC could do was type letters and memos which then had to be printed. If we were communicating with a customer we would type it, print it, sign it, photocopy it for our files and then pop it in the outgoing tray in reception. The receptionist would place it in an envelop, type an address label which she also printed and then take it to the post office at the end of the day. If we were ccing other people in the letter, or including other documents, well, we’d print extra copies for those on cc and send to them, and physically include any additional documents in the envelop. Of course, in those days, we’d say ‘please find enclosed’ instead of ‘please find attached’.

If we wanted to inform our staff about an office policy or event, we’d type a memo, print it and distribute it to everybody concerned or we’d print it and stick it up on the notice board. Of course, in some industries, where certain site cannot have access to email, this practice continues.

But one advantage with this old communication method was that if you realised that there was an error in a letter you sent, you could retrieve it from the outgoing tray, as long as it was before the end of the day. With an email, once you’ve clicked the send button, all bets are off.

Researching something was also much harder in those days and this is something that was quite palpable even back then. Everything involved visiting a library and plough through reams of heavy documents or huge text books and heavy periodicals. It was exhausting. But before you got to these you had to go to through hundreds of microfiches and microfilms that pointed to the right book or periodical and its location.

And the final one I must talk about is photography and videos. No such thing as digital cameras, jpeg files, MP4s and media cards. If you wanted to capture memories you had to buy a film for your camera and, if you were taking photos indoors, make pretty certain that the flash was working or end up with black images.

With photos back then there was always the risk that the shot didn’t come out or the flash didn’t work, meaning that the memory was gone forever. You also didn’t have the option to do a retake. Of course, all this changed somewhat when the Polaroid came out. It gave us the chance to take a picture again and again but it did have it’s limitations in that you couldn’t adjust or edit the image. What you got was…what you got. With movies, well there was this projector and you needed a blank white screen or a white wall in a darkened room. The equipment required some degree of assembling and many families still have their old family reels to play on what they like to call today ‘family movie night’ and the fun was in setting up the projector.

Aah, the good old days!


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