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Opinion: why technology sometimes makes things worse

PUBLISHED: 15:12 03 October 2018

1958 Seeburg Juke Box. Photo by Chris Woodhouse

1958 Seeburg Juke Box. Photo by Chris Woodhouse

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David Clayton says you haven’t lived until you’ve heard music through a juke box - which means most of the younger generation haven’t lived

These days I’m prone to exclaiming, “Who’d have thought it, in my lifetime!”

By that I mean there are some things we take for granted today which were, by comparison, comically primitive back in my childhood.

Take for example the telephone.

I was born in the fifties and we were one of the first households in our street to have a phone installed.

Now I look back, it was inconveniently in the hallway just by the front door which, I think is, as far as the GPO were obliged to run the wires back then. It was a big, black Bakelite thing and my Mother cultivated an overly-posh voice when answering it. Other families would come to use it and proffer tuppence for the privilege. We thought we were at the cutting edge of sophistication and the envy of the neighbourhood.

Look where we are now. We all have a personal phone which is also a camera, a computer, and joy of joys, a torch!

These days, my television will show me any programme I’ve missed, at any time and the profusion of channels is confounding.

I remember huddling round a fourteen-inch Ferguson watching the flickering black and white adventures of the Lone Ranger on the one TV channel available.

“Hi-yo Silver!” The intervening progress is staggering.

I could go on. Don’t, for goodness sake, get me started on cars and motoring then and now. We’ll be here all day!

But in one technological evolution, I put it to you, we have gone the other way. I was chatting to a pal, who’s something of a vinyl record and music aficionado. In fact, he’s known as “Dr. Vinyl” around these parts. Whenever we meet, he’s eager to play me some long-lost track he’s just discovered. From out of his trouser pocket came his miniscule mp3 player and a speaker the size of a golf ball. One connected to the other, he scrolled down hundreds of titles and then filled the room with a sound which was wildly disproportionate to the size of the thing playing it. I once had a garage full of records and this little gadget offered the same storage capacity!

The next day, I went to interview a Gorleston man about a car for an article in Let’s Talk magazine. We spent some time around the vehicle – a 1958 Ford Consul if you’re interested - then retired to his dining room to chat. To my surprise and delight, he had a vintage Juke Box. Not just any Juke Box, one that had served customers at a café in the Kings Lynn area before Chris, my interviewee, acquired it. As a snapshot in time it perfectly captured the late fifties when, for a matter of pennies and old ones at that, you could hear your favourite hits of the day.

Almost without asking permission I pressed “N” and “4” to select Billy Fury’s “Halfway to Paradise”. The satisfying clunk of the big plastic buttons launched the real thrill of an old Juke Box, watching the machinery glide up and down the row of a hundred single records and the mechanical arm plucking out N4 and placing it into the player. Then – and this is the important bit - the sound came through some big old speakers via some valves from somewhere behind a sea of chrome. The sound was big, booming and perfectly suited to Mr Fury’s hit. It was so much better than a digital version.

Like the rest of you, I now couldn’t live without our modern touch-screen world. Alexa and her friends do our bidding without complaint and a world of music, including Billy Fury’s famous hit, is effortlessly downloadable. It’s simply staggering how far we’ve come and how relatively affordable all this mind-blowing technology is, but I can’t help thinking something’s missing, isn’t it?

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