Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Taken for granted

How amazing life is now. Faster. More convenient. How we take so much for granted.

I recall February 1971 when the UK decimalised its currency. I remember someone brought a 50p into primary school, the only coin since then not to have changed it's appearance or size. How amazed we were. During the change over you had a period of time to exchange your old coins into "new money". I used to save my sixpences, then known as half a shilling, slightly bigger than an American dime, and worth 2.5p in new money. I'd then go to my local post office in Ballachulish, where I lived at the time, and exchange pairs of them for a shiny new 5p piece. This new coin was the same size and shape as the old shilling, about the size of the current 10p piece, and the original 10p piece was the size and weight of a two-shilling coin, a "two bob bit", as they were known. My favourite coin though was the old "threepennny bit" (pronounced "threp-nie bit"). Brass in colour, and the oldest coin in our money at the time, being first introduced under Kind Edward 6th in 1547, and worth half the value of a sixpence, with twelve sides and about the size of a modern 5p piece, pictured above.

But I digress. 1971 was also the year that my parents bought their first colour television. What a bizarre thing it was, almost unnerving, this colour window to the world outside, and unlike the plastic ones of today it's body was made of wood laminate, and, horror of horror, you had to get up and go over to it to press the buttons to choose which of the three channels you wanted to watch! Now it's all Hi-def, and 1080p. hundreds of channels etc. Home video machines came out in 1970, but were very expensive. I was in high school before we got one, and it was well used, I can tell you. Like the microwave we took any excuse to use it. But now it's all DVD and BlueRay, and VHS is going to obsolete soon. Like the old coinage system going back five hundred years, it will be a short matter of time before no-one will remember it as it goes the same way as film for your camera and vinyl for your music. Ahh, the days of the Kodak Instamatic and the "separates" hi-fi system!

Yes, most things now are better quality, though let's not start the argument on vinyl verses digital. I could add my own rant here about film photography verses digital, but I'll save that for another day.

We take so much for granted now. Mobile phones: no longer do we have to hunt for a phone box in working order. Space travel: no longer science fiction. We have a "space craft" for goodness sake, that goes up routinely and flies back like a plane! And a space station! In 1971, with man still flying to the moon in a rocket 360 feet (111m) tall, these kind of things still belonged to Buck Rogers!

Yes, it all seems to have improved in quality and efficiency as time has gone by, and in an exponential curve.

Except shopping. To an extent anyway.

In the past ten years since the end of the dot-com boom bubble bursting, we've all become quite accustomed to "shopping online", be that Amazon, Ebay or any of the myriad of companies online now. Yes, it is convenient to just browse anything you want, and click, click click, it's yours, delivered to your door.

But this relies on courier companies to get them to you, and don't they always turn up during the day and leave a card because, surprise surprise, you weren't in, but you can collect your parcel from their depot conveniently located on the next planet! Or arrange redelivery using their automated system on the telephone. Then you get it and it's the wrong size, or colour, or is entirely different from what you thought it would be. So you send it back. More expense and frustration. They send a replacement by courier, but you're not in . . .

I order online, but I keep it to the simple things, like books and CD's, but even that is frustrating me now. It not only costs you more due to postage and packing than it would do in the shops, but if you do save money it will most likely be despatched from China and take until next year to get to you!

And you wont be in!

So I started "going to the shops" again to buy such things, and despite the crowds, what fun it is. I can touch the item, try on the shirt, flick the tactile pages of a good book. I realised how much I had taken these businesses for granted and had diverted my buying to the internet. And getting off my butt and going out to shop was also better excercise than two-finger typing.

I'll "go to the shops" more often now. Before they go the way of vinyl, film or the threepenny bit.

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