The wonders of modern technology...

Posted by , 4 February 2014

…you name it, we have it – and we can’t imagine having to live without it.

When I think about the changes in technology during my lifetime, I am quickly overwhelmed. Telephones, kitchen and household appliances, cars, cameras, gadgets galore…you name it, we have it – and we can’t imagine having to live without it. Today I was reflecting on the communication tools that I have used in my lifetime, and how they have changed the way I work and stay connected to family and friends.

In my 46 years we have gone from chunky dial telephones attached to the wall socket and connected to the exchange, to ‘mobiles’ that you can fit in the palm of your hand and use to call anywhere in the world, do your banking, check a movie time, video call with friends and look up the directions to the restaurant you are trying to find.

My first mobile was almost the size of a brick, and nearly as heavy. The battery lasted about an hour and I had to buy a bigger handbag to carry it around. Now I have a sleek new iPhone 5s with fingerprint sensor technology, a fancy colour screen, a million apps (ok, not quite a million, but you get the picture, right?) and a pretty good camera. It’s truly my very own personal assistant – all my calendar events and contacts are stored in there, I can no longer remember anyone’s phone number, and if I lose it or break it I will seriously panic…until I remember that the wonderful ‘iCloud’ has it all backed up out there somewhere, just floating around in cyberspace waiting for that to happen. Thank God, Apple has me covered.

I learned to type on a clunky old manual typewriter when I was in year 7 at St Clare’s College. I really hated it at the time, but this is one of the best skills I have ever learned and I am forever grateful for it. The teachers had painted over the letters on the keyboards with black paint, and then put pictures of the keyboard layout around the ceiling cornices of the room. This meant if you didn’t know where the keys were, you had to look up anyway. I wish I had counted how many times I typed “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” while looking towards the ceiling. If you were unlucky, the ribbon would run out mid-lesson, and you would have to go through the inky process of putting a new one in, ending up with stained fingers for the rest of the day. Being able to type without looking at the keyboard or screen at over 100 words a minute has some serious advantages in the modern world, where I use a computer for a great part of my working day while still trying to look patients in the eye and carry on a conversation.

One of my first full time jobs required me to use a manual typewriter to type letters and a telex machine to send messages interstate and internationally. This meant typing a message that was punched onto paper tape, and then the tape was fed through the machine once the line was dialed and connected to the machine at the other end – only then would it transmit the message. Now of course all you have to do is send a text message on your phone, shoot off a few lines in a quick email, or arrange a video conference.

By the end of the 1980s we were lucky enough to have electronic typewriters with multiple fonts which you selected by changing the font ball. My fingers were finally able to end the day without aching from having to punch down hard on the keys, and my wrist could take a rest from sliding the carriage across to a new line. I thought it was heaven to use the IBM Selectric. If you wanted to create multiple copies of a document, you used carbon paper. Eventually we moved up to advanced models that ‘remembered’ a line or a paragraph of text and allowed you to edit it to fix your typos before pressing the return key and printing it onto the paper. What luxury! By the time I went to work at The Canberra School of Music typing concert programs, we had word processors that allowed us to edit documents several times before printing. We could even insert a picture of the performing artist!

Our first computer at home was a Commodore Vic20. It was pretty special and had a huge 5kB RAM, which is roughly equivalent to the words and spaces on one sheet of typing paper. It connected to the television which became the screen, and I thought it was absolutely brilliant, spending hours trying to figure out how to play Pirate Adventure. In 1988 I went to work for Department Administrative Services – where the mainframe computer that powered our individual desktop computers took up an entire floor of the building at 111 Alinga Street in Civic. Now we have desktop computers, laptops, tablets, ipads. We have colour printers, laser printers, wireless ‘air’ printers – and, if you are rich, you can buy a 3D printer that can print you a replacement body part such as that pinky finger that’s finally given up the ghost and refuses to hit the return key one more time.

Today I spent three hours in a clinic with a new Registrar. Most of that time wasn’t actually seeing the patients, it was teaching him how to use the multiple computer programs required to view pathology results (CIS), imaging (PACS), letters, inpatient notes (CRIS), discharge summaries (CONCERTO) and how to document the clinic review and prescribe chemotherapy (CHARM). Is it just a coincidence that most of the program names start with a “c”? With two computer monitors and eight different programs open, trying to find one critical piece of information that we needed to make a decision about a patient’s treatment plan was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In sheer frustration, I finally began to question just how useful modern technology is. At least when we had a paper file all of the information was in one place – not necessarily in the right order, usually not legible, but right there at your fingertips without have to remember at least five different passwords.

Sometimes I wonder where it will all end. I doubt even the brightest geeks have a clue about the gadgets we will be using and can’t live without in another 46 years. Have our lives improved with all of these inventions? Perhaps. Probably. Or maybe there are a lot of pitfalls…but that’s another story.

  Comments [0]

Feel free to share your thoughts on this entry through a comment. Because I know who you are (yes, I'm talking about you), all comments will be moderated before appearing here.

Commenting is closed for this article.