20 Years In The Blink Of An Eye

So today is my 3rd daughter, and firstborn's, 20th birthday.


20 years!

Philips PR747
Philips PR747

I remember sending about 20 texts to friends and family “It's a Girl!! 7lbs 6” that morning on my Philips PR747 GSM Digital Mobile Phone. I couldn't afford the ubiquitous Nokia 2110 so got this one, actually an OEM of the Nokia for £10 on a contract. Ironically I worked for Nokia at the time, but this was before companies, even Nokia, issued mobile phones to staff. Before people considered using mobile phones for work.

Amanzi's labour was all fits and starts, false contractions alternating with long periods of 'nothing to see here.” So the hospital sent me home after visiting hours. About 10 minutes into my 40 minute drive, they called our home number and left a message on our microtape powered answering machine. WTF! So yes, I had to drive the 40 mins back to the hospital.

Sony Discman
Sony Discman

Amanzi was born to the strains of White Heart's “Desert Rose” played on a Sony portable CD player. We had a stack of about 20 CD's that we'd listened to over the 2 days spent in hospital. MP3's were around, of course, but only the geekiest 'connected' people listened to them, and then on a PC. At the time 'audiophiles' were raging about the loss of audio quality on CD's compared to Vinyl. They were oblivious to the 'lossy' MP3 format that was going to disrupt the music industry.

Talking of PC's our home machine was a Dell Dimension XPS P120 with the original Pentium processor running at 120MHz. Fully specced with 16MB (yes, that's megabyte) RAM and a whopping 1GB (yes, that's gigabyte) hard drive. It came with a 17″ CRT monitor that itself weighed over 15kgs. I installed Windows NT 3.5 (pre 3.51) because I didn't trust the consumer Windows 95. That first family computer cost £5000, most of my inheritance.

Newborn Amanzi
My newborn

Photo's of the happy event (well immediately post the actual birth) were taken on a Minolta SLR camera on 35mm, 400 ISO colour Fujifilm. These took a couple of days to be developed and shared with friends. In an album. Each photo on the 36 shot roll came to about 50p – £1 depending on how many shots were actually worth keeping. But typically you'd pay about £20 all up for film, processing and printing.

I didn't buy my first digital camera until almost 2 years later. But later that year at work we did get a Casio QV-10, which took shots natively in QVGA resolution (320 x 240 or 0.08MPx) or interpolated up to VGA 640×480 (0.3MPx).

We had no way of digitising photos at the time. Scanners were expensive corporate devices. It didn't matter too much. Apart from a couple of business people at work, very few of our friends were connected to the Internet, let alone had an email address. We actually had copies of photos printed and posted these to relatives overseas.

In fact there was no “plug and play,” no USB. To even connect a peripheral, like a printer or joystick, you needed a parallel (printer) or serial (most other devices) port on the computer. You also needed the drivers on a floppy disk or it simply wouldn't work.

Talking of the Internet, at the time I had just changed from Compuserve, to AOL, to Force9 for my ISP. I had a 56k modem, and Force9 offered a 1800 “dial-up” number that saved me the cost of the phone call when connecting. In the UK calls were billed by the second. In those days, if someone picked up the phone in the kitchen, it would knock the sole PC in the house off the “Net.”

There was no 'Social Media' of course. Some of us more dedicated techs would scan the Alt.News sites, a precursor to forums (and post dialling into BBS 'Bulletin Board Services'). I was proud to have memorised my ICQ ID, a 9 digit number, that allowed me to have 'real-time' chats on the platform. ICQ an early Instant Messenger client, and precursor to Yahoo! Messenger, then MSN Messenger. This was a decade before Facebook.

VHS had won the video format wars, and there were consumer video cameras. All of these were massive, clunky affairs, that recorded natively to VHS or to 'Hi-8' 8mm tape cartridges. Video editing was an analog linear process, computers simply didn't have the power to render and edit video at the time. So we have no video from those early days. In fact we don't have any video of our wedding either, as we decided it not worth the £5,000 copyright licence to cover the songs in our service.

USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional
USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional

Amanzi was born about a year before I picked up my first Personal Digital Assistant, or PDA, the USRobotics Palm Pilot Professional. The 'Professional' had 1MB of memory, instead of 512k. But by the time Charis was born, almost 2 years after Amanzi, Lucy would take a digital photo of her then email it to me in hospital at the time. I would dial-in to my email account on the Palm Pilot, with a clip-on modem, and show the 2-bit monochrome image to the medical staff. Futuristic stuff indeed.

In fact as early as 1998, just two and a half years later, we took all the ID photos for our migration to Australia, on a digital camera and printed them at home. We researched and arranged the purchace of our new car, and organised the move all online.

Today of course, you'd do everything on the computer in your pocket. Your smartphone.

It's laughable to think of an event that isn't shared online. Hardly anyone apart from enthusiasts bother with buying a still or video camera. When last did you wait to get online? When you bank, look for a house, buy a car, have a party, book travel, check-in for a flight, or a hotel, or simply catch-up with someone, you do it on your phone.

What difference the next 20 years, er, blink of an eye?


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