Thursday, July 18, 2013

A guided tour through amazing technology changes

I was born on Christmas Eve, 1969, right on the turn of a new decade. It was an interesting time to enter the world. When I think of all the changes I've seen in a reasonably short life, I feel I have something in common with those who were born around the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century. They experienced plenty of change within a short period, including motor cars, telephone, electricity and flush toilets. I feel as if I've been in a similar whirl, although I'll just focus on what it means for us as writers.

1975 - 1980
When I visit my Dad's work while they clean, I sometimes get to try typing my stories out on his typewriter. The keys often get jumbled up and stuck together. They tell me my little fingers probably aren't strong enough to give each key the good, firm, separate jab it needs. It's very frustrating. I only get about one paragraph done in an hour.

I'm in Year 10 at High School and we begin a cutting-edge new subject called Computer Awareness. Our school owns about a dozen huge computers which we have to share in pairs to do assignments. It's all over my head and I decide to stick to typing.

I get through Year 12, which is the final year of High School, or matriculation, with hand-written essays and assignments. For research, I still have only the World Book Encyclopaedias in our library, just like every other student. If somebody has the volume with the letter I want, it sets me back for who knows how long. I'm not a very outspoken person so often have to wait until close to the deadlines for the work.

1998 - 1991
I buy myself a treat to help myself through University. It's an electric typewriter. My fingers glide across the keys and I can even buy little rolls of correction tape, so I can back-space and white-out mistakes. A typewriter with its own liquid paper! The assignments I submit look far more professional than my hand-written ones ever used to.

Just before I get married, I'm able to borrow my future brother-in-law's computer to type out wedding invitations. They look flasher than anything I could ever do on my typewriter. Not only can you use italics but you can change the whole font. I'm beginning to think I'd like one of my own, but I'm not as clued-up as my brother-in-law, who even 'surfs the net' when he's at Uni. I wouldn't know where to start.

We get a computer about the same time we have our first baby. My Dad lends us the money, although he believes they are a luxury which people don't really need in their homes. He knows I like to write though. Now I can save things on floppy discs and return to them whenever the baby is sleeping. And instead of throwing out whole pages of work, I can 'copy and paste' and shuffle things around in my manuscripts.
 Some encyclopaedia salesmen still knock on our door and worm their way in to spread their wares across our loungeroom floor, trying to convince us that one day, our son will thank us when he has to face school assignments. My husband decides no, with the way the internet is heading, encyclopaedias will one day be old memories, hard as that may be to believe.

1997 or 1998
Around about now, we have internet. I never thought this would happen to me. The world is at my fingertips from my kitchen table. I wish I'd had this at Uni, because I wouldn't have needed to make so many trips down to the city to research. It's dial-up Broadband, so we can't talk on the phone while someone's using internet. If people say, "I've been trying to get through for hours," we say, "Sorry, I was on the internet."

It's the turn of the century and the Y2K bug didn't get our technology. We have our email address now. My in-laws ask me if I can send an email to friends of theirs, who are travelling. They are amazed next day, when I tell them, "They've sent a reply."
"But they're miles away. How did it get there so quickly?"

I start my first blog. When I find out what the word actually means, it sounds like fun. Its first comment is from a lady in America and I'm dancing around the room, delighted. "Hey, people in America are talking to me! They've read my blog. Can you believe that? They've read what I have to say and they're in America!"

Some of my blog friends are talking about Face Book. I have a look, but it seems a bit silly. Who'd want to bother knowing all my little details? I'll probably just stick to my blog. I join a writers' chat group and one lady tells us that she's published an eBook, because it seems to her that is where the future is heading. Privately, I don't think anyone will latch onto those. Naw, it's too way-off. Who'd stop reading proper books?

I read through to prepare my 2000 title, "Picking up the Pieces" for a new edition, and find I have to change the technology all the time. I had characters looking for public phone booths and listening to tapes in tape recorders. Wow, who would've thought we were so behind the times such a short time ago?

I'm working on a collaborated novel with three friends. Two of us live in South Australia, one in Victoria and one way up in Queensland. We manage to plan the whole plot on Skype, and even look at each others' faces while we're talking. Then emails fly back and forth all the time, as each of us finish different parts of the story. How could we have done this, so far apart, without modern technology?

I own a kindle and an Ipad, which is an excellent partnership. With one, I'm able to browse Amazon and buy books, which I can begin to read immediately with the other. All this is before I even need to get out of bed. Many of my books are available from Amazon and other on-line book stores in e-format, so we can advertise them internationally without having to worry about postage. For the first time, our Great South Land is feeling less isolated

Many of my friends are from overseas, and if we want to, we can talk to each other live.

A few weeks ago, I was watching my publisher's two-year-old boy use his Ipad like a pro, which I'm sure he's probably been adept with since he could walk.

My own children laugh when I reminisce about the old manual typewriter, the old electric typewriter, the old encyclopaedias and the old floppies. They say, "You were around with the dinosaurs, Mum," yet I know I wasn't. It's simply that progress has happened so quickly, we've hardly had time to catch our breath. I believe we're living in exciting times for authors and readers. Things I couldn't have imagined in the 1970s and 1980s are now normal parts of our lifestyles and I'm looking forward to finding out what will come next.

As writers, we are enjoying far more luxuries than our illustrious forebears. When I imagine how people like George Eliot or Charles Dickens would have loved our modern computers, internet and communication devices to help them write their enormous novels, I feel very grateful. No matter what the pitfalls of modern communications are, and there are quite a few, it is easy to focus on the good, when we consider how they have helped to revolutionise our lives.

I can't help agreeing with my 18-year-old son. He says he hopes the end of the world won't happen for a long, long time, because it would be such a shame, in his opinion, to have a "Left Behind" scenario just when technology is getting really good.

Paula Vince is an award-winning author of contemporary Christian novels. She lives with her husband, three children and one nephew in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which she uses as the setting of many of her books.


  1. Great post Paula - so many memories. My hubby has been watching Stark Trek, Next Gen. The characters walk around with their hand held, touch-screen devices. I said 'look, they've got iPads.' So funny how when this series came out, that idea was still so futuristic, and now it seems quite normal. Technology does move so fast!

  2. Hi Amanda,
    That is really funny to see, isn't it. Also the TV programs or movies that have 'futuristic' devices that look dated.

  3. Had a chuckle as I read this Paula. I was listening to some kids, very young kids talking at the footy recently. they all had their own I pads and I phones. This dinosaur as yet has neither.

  4. Hi Dale,
    They can teach all of us about technology. My kids have more up-to-date mod cons than I do.

  5. Great post, Paula, and a real trip down memory lane for me too. I sure remember writing all those essays by hand at Uni in the sixties--and in the eighties as well, when I went back for further study. But by the nineties, when I went back to study yet again, it was a whole different ball game. My husband remembers the first computer installed at Qld Uni and it took up the whole wall of a room!

  6. Hi Jo-Anne,
    How much easier the lives of teachers and lecturers must be, who no longer have to wade through hundreds of different hand-writing styles when they do their marking. I've never seen one of those computers that took up entire rooms, but I've heard about them.

  7. Oh my, I began writing stories by hand and had to ask my hubby to put them on computer as I couldn't type! He was so tired by 11pm he said I'll just rest my eyes awhile. I felt so guilty I jumped in and learned how even though two-finger style.
    Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane.

  8. Hi Rita,
    Wow, that's amazing commitment. I have to ask, do you still use the two-finger method for all your books?