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Phone Box: Historical Relic? Tourist Attraction?

We no longer – in any meaningful numbers – book holidays from brochures or ring to check film times. We don’t queue outside a street phone box, clutching enough coins for our call(s). Very few of us now pay utility bills by cheques or postal orders every quarter by posting a letter with a lick-stick stamp or use the post office to pay them for us.

It’s quite a little game to remember what we did, and even recording TV progs onto VHS tapes, music onto cassettes or posting off a camera film to be developed and prints posted back to us, seem so long ago, almost quaint. That was a lifetime ago. In technology’s march through time, yesterday is a forgotten era.

Fewer PCs are sold as laptops and tablets take over. Smartphones have revolutionised every aspect of mobile, on-the move technology. That is obvious behaviour-changing development, but online back-up service Mozy has published a fun list of 50 things we don’t do anymore.

There should be a rider to the list, that some are still done by people who are not up the minute in the latest gadgetry, such as the elderly who do not surf, the sick or those too poor to keep up, those who still look up businesses in Yellow Pages.

It’s just that in the main, the world moves on for most people most of the time, with over 75% respondents to a Mozy survey admitting their daily activities ‘rely on technology’ and a fifth saying they’re ‘never out of reach of an internet device’.

Buying CDs, sticking photos in albums, calling the Speaking Clock, writing letters (especially to a pen friend or love letters) by hand from an address book, buying disposable cameras, checking a map before a car journey or owning an encyclopedia are among the long-gone daily tasks. The cassette, pagers and the fax have also been banished to the museum.

They also listed among the things rarely done now: washing clothes by hand, warming hot drinks on the stove, keeping printed bills or financial statements, working out how to spell or add something yourself, advertising in physical trade papers or using a real dictionary.

Beyond that survey, once you start to think about it, what is diminishing fast is even owning a cheque book, buying newspapers, sending postcards and Christmas cards and handwriting school/college work. Even exams are moving to online typing and assessment. Physical papers like wills, transfers, birth/death certificates are all on a short life span now.

The paper part of the driving licence looks set to disappear in 2015 with only the photo card left. Details of MOTs, insurance and offences/points are held on computers

Home baking, growing vegetables, knitting, darning and other domestic activities have experienced more of a revival with the austerity of the current era, but without that, few people would any longer know how to do those things.

There is a race memory that survives a long time. People still remember the war who lived through it. Their children remember what they were told and learned about the war. Their children will have a more hazy understanding of what they remember from what they were told. The next generation after that normally relies on books, documents, film and the internet.

One fear of historians and sociologists is that technology wipes away much of the physicality of our human past. Looking at a picture of your father as a child online is one thing. Finding a browned, curled old photo in the loft is quite another.

Happy memories!

Mozy Blog, December 2011.

Photo: Jon Bennett