David Worboys – Revelations of Technology

In the days when we crapped in a bucket in the garden, it was impossible to imagine showers with sensors and voice control.

Advances in technology over the last hundred years have provided incalculable benefits for our way of life. Until 1926, unless perched astride an ostrich, our fastest means of travel was on horseback.

By 1938, the A4 locomotive “Mallard” had beaten the rail speed record at 200 km per hour (126 mph). In 1961, the sound barrier was broken when a Douglas DC8 jet reached a speed of 1,240 km per hour (778 mph). In 1969 the Appollo 11 spacecraft achieved 39,000 km per hour (24,200 mph) in reaching the moon. This is 32 times the speed of sound – and somewhat faster than horseback.

A hundred and twenty years ago, many houses still had no running water nor flushing lavatories. For fresh water a bucket would be taken to the local pump while a tin bath was filled for ablutions. A (different!) bucket underneath a wooden seat would serve as a lavatory. This was collected each week by “night soil shifters” for suitable disposal in darkness. Until then one tended not to “linger in the loo” – but the flies had a field day.

Nowadays, water filters can remove all impurities from tap water. The power, temperature and duration of showers can be digitally selected or controlled and adjusted by voice command, while the flushing of lavatories is activated by sensors.

Neither was there electricity. Coal, coke or wood fires provided heating by day and stone-wear hot water bottles at nighttime, when the source of light was gas lamps, oil lamps or candles. Devices were powered by battery.

There were no computers or pocket calculators. Simple calculations in shops or banks were made mentally or on paper. In 1951 J. Lyons and Co installed the first computer used in business. It occupied an entire room of an office in London and was operated by pre-punched cards. Personal computers arrived in 1977 in the form of desktop.

Before telephones were installed in houses, to communicate at a distance in real time it was necessary to go to a public phone box. Bus conductors collected fares and issued stapled tickets from a rack and clipped them.

Today´s smartphone is a hand-held computer and can be fitted into our pocket. We can now use it to reserve and pay for a seat on a bus, to text a message or make a phone call to Indonesia, to obtain a local weather forecast, order deliveries or to send a video-selfie.

So, how did we manage in the past? It was only those with advanced technical perception (the Leonardos) who could imagine the potential of what lay ahead. In 1900 most of us were not aware of lacking anything as we lit the candle or crapped in a bucket.

In fifty years there will be innovations that we could never have imagined. Not just humans´ ability to fly or to adjust the weather at will, to cure all diseases or to dispense with human labour altogether …. but the completely unconceived.

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Written by

David Worboys

Offering a unique insight into everything from politics to food to sport, David is one of the Euro Weekly News´ most popular columnists.