Simon Kelner: Back then, we used to have contact with humans

Kelner's View

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The Independent Online

This newspaper has a particularly young age profile, so some of what I'm about to say may not make sense to much of our readership.

There was a time, not so long ago, when people used to take photographs on a camera, then take the film to a chemist's shop, and, hey presto, a week later were presented with prints of the pictures they had taken. And when they wanted to book a holiday, they'd go to a shop called a travel agent and, after leafing through some brochures, would discuss their requirements with, yes, a live human being.

Do you remember a time when you met someone, and didn't know everything about them, or had seen their holiday snaps, or knew who their friends were? And you had to find a (functioning) public phone box when you wanted to make a call while you were away from home?

These were older, but in many ways less simple, times. Technology has brought many benefits to our lives, not the least of which is the fact that, according to 75 per cent of Britons, the appliance of science saves them about two hours a week on their day-to-day chores. That may, of course, just mean that they spend more time on their games console or at a computer screen rather than in quiet contemplation or doing charity work, but we'll let that pass.

The fact is, as I've said before, we take technology for granted most of the time, and although some of the developments I've listed have downsides, too – the problem with digital cameras is that you have a thousand images and never spend time looking at them, and I rather like the idea that someone would not have Googled you before a meeting – few of us would wish that we could turn the digital clock back.

Who has an address book these days? And when was the last time you looked through a telephone directory? (For the benefit of some of our younger readers, it's a big, rather dull book that lists everyone's phone number in your area.) The smartphone does it all, and more, which brings some dangers of its own.

Not so long ago, when we lost a phone, we simply lost a phone. Now, it's more like losing your memory. But does all this technology make our lives better, or just different? It certainly means that our engagement with humankind becomes more restricted.

We instinctively know that everyone prefers a thank you letter, or even a phone call, but why bother when you can text more easily – and with the added benefit that you don't have to talk to anyone. Sooner or later, we'll call our friends and you'll be invited to go through a number of options. Press 1 to complain that I never answer my calls. Press 2 to give a lame excuse about why you're not coming to dinner. Etc, etc.

And, if you want to ask me a favour, all our operators are busy. Ah, the simplicity of it all.