Unlike today’s Gen X’ers, Gen Yer’s and Millennials, I was born and educated in mankind’s Industrial Age but graduated in the Information Age. Just as Fred Flintstone and his stone age car existed on the cusp of the bronze age, my career has straddled two different epochs. Unlike my Information Age business colleagues, I have never lost that child-like sense of awe as each new invention is unveiled with ever increasing frequency.
Here I pay homage to six inventions that have had a profound impact on my life. I list their finest qualities and their positive impact on my life. But I also take a nostalgic look back and assess what each invention may have taken away from my former Industrial Age innocence.
1. The Sinclair Cambridge pocket calculator. Okay, so I missed out on the abacus, but when I first studied maths at school I was instructed in the use of logarithmic tables and slide rules.
I know what you’re thinking. Am I that old? Captain Cook and Dr Henry Livingstone used a slide rule to chart their way around the world. But when the sleek Sinclair Cambridge pocket calculator made its appearance in the classrooms of England, it was too good to be true. I took my subsequent maths exams with a grin that spread from ear to ear. All the while I half-suspected that the examiners would realise a dreadful mistake had been made and would confiscate our Sinclairs only to replace them with Victorian era log tables.
Sir Clive Sinclair was a flawed genius and went on to invent the death trap that was the C5 electric car. But he will forever have a place in my heart. Forty years later I still have his marvellous invention in the top draw of my desk at home.
2. The Grandstand Model 2000 video game. I had always assumed that televisions were inert, dumb objects that sent information one way. It controlled you. Sure, some of the programmes of my youth like Star Trek, Get Smart and Dr Who were pretty cool, but when I saw the Grandstand Model 2000 video game with its four functions (Football, Squash, Tennis and Practice) that I controlled, I knew that I just had to have one. In 1978 I became the master of the short white line and the square ball that bounced infuriatingly around the screen. The Grandstand 2000 was my first taste of computer technology and it started my lifelong interest in consumer electronics.
On the flip side, its novelty value soon wore off and I am still receiving psychotherapy today for its incessant high-pitched beeping and bopping. My Grandstand console had an electrical fault and blew up two of my dad’s black and white TV’s. Luckily he never suspected my Grandstand 2000 was the culprit or I wouldn’t be here espousing the qualities of modern technology with you today.
3. The email. Many of today’s workers would not know what life was like without email. This marvellous invention came into my life as a post-graduate student at the University of Essex in 1984. I instantly recognised the impact and primary use of this epoch changing technology.
Until that moment, one had to pluck up vast reserves of courage and find the right moment to chat up the girl of your dreams, but with email it was possible to be charming and witty at the touch of a button. You didn’t even have to look the part. Dating would never be the same again.
But the fun couldn’t last. As the use of email spread from the university campus to the work place its purpose as an exciting carrier of flirty messages was corrupted forever in the name of corporate greed. Inboxes around the world would soon be filled with meaningless corporate drivel and cover-your-ass memos. The age of innocence was lost forever.
4. The Fax Machine. I had been in industry for almost a year when my company bought its first fax machine. I watched in stunned awe as my purchase order disappeared into the beeping, hissing rectangular box to appear instantly at the supplier’s end hundreds of miles away. It was the closest thing to magic I had ever seen, particularly when the supplier returned my purchase order, duly signed minutes later. Ten years before I had scoffed at Star Trek’s transporter beam as stretching credibility too far, but my document was being beamed up in front of my own eyes. Unreal!
All good things come to an end and so it was with the fax machine. Rest in peace, my friend. You have earned pride of place in the great electronic scrapheap in the sky.
5. The Microwave oven. It might be mundane and ‘old hat’ now, but when it first came out, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Not only could the microwave oven cook food in three minutes, but it could do so without heat! Had I been born three hundred years earlier I would have cried out ‘witchcraft’! Indispensable for warming up cold cups of tea and last night’s leftovers, it has forever etched a place in my heart.
Regrettably, the microwave oven never conquered the baked potato and left chicken looking insipid and foul smelling. Its street cred was damaged beyond repair with the rise of poncy TV shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.
6. The Satnav. I was never blessed with a good sense of direction and have been known to occasionally wander aimlessly along my own street looking for my house. So when I bought my first TomTom, all my Christmases arrived at once. So useful was this little marvel of the twenty-first century that I could even forgive it for dumping me in a non-existent cul-de-sac in the dodgiest corner of the Bankstown. The Satnav is the gift that keeps on giving and even directs me away from the unseen four mile tailback that threatens to wreck my day. Just how clever is the little lady in the satnav that guides me serenely to my destination despite my attempts to take a wrong turn at every junction?
Unfortunately, satellite technology is also threatening to give us driverless cars. In my book that’s one step too far. When little backseat satnav driver takes control, I will know that my Industrial Age boy racer days are well and truly over.
Honourable mention: must go to the smart phone which has changed our lives forever, but not necessarily for the better. You only have to walk down the street to see the entire population of Australia bowing their heads to the mighty iPhone. Try getting a sensible comment out of a Millennial when they are within ten metres of an iPhone and you will understand why the smart phone did not make my ‘big six’.
I do understand that my ‘Six of the Best’ is a personal journey. Feel free to let me know your own ‘big six’ and what impact they have had on your life.