Dori and I have been watching an interesting programme on the BBC over the last week or so. Produced in conjunction with the Open University, it examines the effect of modern technology on today’s society. A family have volunteered to live their lives as though they were living through the 70s, 80s and 90s with each day of the month representing one day of the three decades, starting off in 1970 on day one.
Dori and I often remark on how much has changed during our lifetimes, which isn’t a huge amount of time – no, really, it’s not – and this programme brought that fact home. You really do forget exactly what life was like back then. Most houses didn’t have central heating or double glazing, no freezers, no microwaves, no dishwashers, no colour TV, no CDs, no mobile/cell phones and, of course, no computers let alone the world wide web! Cars had no power steering, air conditioning, or power assisted braking systems. You couldn’t listen to music on the go as the walkman was still years away in the future. We lived in the Stone Age!
The production crew also decorated the family’s house to suit each decade complete with vivid 70s wallpaper, or chintzy 80s furniture. As each day (year) went by so more technology was introduced into the house. At the start of the project the family found that the parents spent much longer doing housework as they had none of the modern conveniences, and had to shop for food just about daily as freezers were yet to reach most houses. The children, in contrast, had more time on their hands than they knew what to do with, without any game consoles, cell phones, mp3 players or much TV to watch – there were just 3 stations, all in black and white and were only showing a test-card for the great majority of the day. So, they ended up spending time together, playing board games or even actually getting out of the house and playing in the great outdoors. Of course, back in the 70s, parents were also more likely to let their kids play out for just about the whole day without worrying too much – a complete contrast to today.
The 70s brought music centres, colour TV, calculators and, at the end of the decade, Pong! The 80s brought primitive computers into the house, slightly more sophisticated games consoles, the walkman, video recorders, CDs and microwaves. During this decade the family started to drift away from their communal activities and found that they had the technology to allow them to entertain themselves more. When the 90s came around so did the Sony Playstation, satellite TVs, mp3 players, mobile phones, digital cameras and, of course, the World Wide Web. The pace of change was ever increasing and the throw-away culture became more evident. The children would be alone in their rooms watching their own TVs, playing on a games console or listening to an mp3 player. And the adults would be doing something similar downstairs. Technology had rent the family unit completely apart.
Modern convenience has given us so much more leisure time but we spend it in such different ways now – more often than not in more individual pursuits and not in enjoying the company of those we love. We surf the net, blog even, we play on games consoles, or we listen to our own music on mp3 players. The price of “progress” indeed.
The BBC and Open University have created a website to go along with this series which is worth a look at, if only to remember how “bad” things really used to be!