Tuesday, 08 March 2011

Technology in London of the late 1960s

Swinging London: A Trunk Full of 60s ExoticaThe late 1960s was the era of flower power, hippies, the alternative society, folk music, free concerts in Hyde Park, Carnaby Street, Twiggy, the Beatles and the Stones, Pink Floyd and the best popular music ever. It was also the time that I arrived in London at the tender age of fifteen. 
Those were the days of pre-history in technology terms. There was no technology as we know it. There were a few items that we used that had been unchanged for years, but generally there wasn't much. 
Naturally, what we didn't have we didn't miss, and what we did have didn't change much from one year to another. 
We had cars in those days. Some of the cars were awesome, but the electronics were almost non-existent. No central locking, remote controls ... Today's most basic features were real luxuries.
Electronic calculators were still quite new and generally unsophisticated. We had just changed from the bright red LED display to the more gentle (and battery friendly) LCD display. This was the very beginning of the personal computer. 
At the shops and in business much was manual. Computers were used by large insurance companies to process large quantities of data. An insurance quote took weeks and was done by a person with a piece of paper, a calculator and a book of tables. All bank transactions were manual - nothing was online at all! 
We had the transistor radio. This was a portable radio that played radio stations. They sounded tinny.  Decent sound could only be achieved with large speakers. The transistor was replacing the valve in hi-fi components in a big way and there was much debate about which was better. Cassette recorders were replacing reel-to-reel tape recorders. The quality was not great and was often accompanied by a hissing sound. 
Telephones had large round dials with a hole that corresponded to each number. Inside was a real bell. 
The recording industry was able to produce remarkable quality on vinyl. Stereo was not as much a novelty as it had been just a few years earlier. Record companies and Hi-Fi technology manufacturers began producing quadrophonic LPs, a trend that didn't catch on. 
Colour TV was brand new and the colours were prone to go wrong often. TV sets were bulky. 
The closest you could get to a cell phone was a walkie-talkie as used by the cops, or a beeper - a call would forward a message to the device. 
There were no cell phones. You could go away and no-one would find you. There was no GPS. In an emergency we sent a telegram. 
The US managed to put a man on the moon with computers that used less than one megabyte of RAM. 
The microwave had been invented but was still unusual. South Africa did not have TV and all radio was state controlled. The UK had just started Radio 5 to replace the pirate radio stations. 
The call-centre had not yet been invented (now I see a touch of envy!!!). 
We used film in cameras and the closest we could get to a video was a 16 mm movie film. A 3 minute film cost a small fortune! 
There were no CDs, no DVDs. There were huge TV cameras at the huge pop festivals. These were able to shoot excellent footage of the events. 
There was no Internet! NO INTERNET! The closest we had were the emerging "underground press" in the form of it (international times) in the UK, OZ (a magazine) and Rolling Stone magazine in the US. A little news-sheet called Time Out in London had just begun and told us about gigs and other events. This hippy publication soon became a prominent weekly must have in London. 
I could go on ...

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