Old keyboard

Memory of a time that died. 100-year-old portable typewriter.

Where have all the old skills gone, long time passing…

Sitting in my favourite cafe in Sydney the other day I was amazed to see that every table – yes every table – was occupied by someone working on a laptop. Some were typing with two fingers, a few others were touch-typing. How things had changed, I thought. Before the proliferation of the laptop and, in fact, computers, I could sit in a public place with my portable Remington typewriter and people would stare at ‘that man who was typing with all his fingers’.

My sojourn in the cafe, in the wake of the riots in England, emphasised to me that the skills, the decency, the manners of the past have gone. But before you tell me that I have to ‘get with it’ and keep up with progress, I’m doing that – but it doesn’t stop me bemoaning the death of incredible times such as the fabulous 1960s, when rock music was fantastic, when photography needed calculations and added darkroom skills, when manners abounded (well, perhaps they were beginning to fade by then, fair enough) and when people back in the old country – England – gave an interview on the radio you could actually understand what they were saying.A mixture of dialect and street talk in one interview left me wondering what on earth was being said.

As for photography – everyone, it seems, has a camera or a phone-cam. You don’t need to use a light meter or twist the lens to focus. You just aim, press a button and it’s all taken care of. I look back sorrowfully at the time when you needed to learn how to develop a film and make a great print. You want a really eye-catching photo these days? Easy, press the button for an app and it will all be done for you. And writing…if you didn’t know how to spell a word in the past you reached for your dictionary and actually looked it up, confirming its meaning if you weren’t sure. Now you don’t have to do anything. Just type away and word check will do all the work for you. And what do you really learn from this? Nothing, I’d suggest.

Coincidentally, while I was sitting in that cafe with my own MacBook Air tethered to my Samsung Galaxy S2 (you see, I am keeping up), I was flicking through one of the Sunday papers (which I’d actually purchased because I still like the look of ink on paper) I saw a piece reviewing a book by the woman known as Australia’s etiquette queen, June Dally-Watkins. Her thoughts were in line with my own. ‘I am concerned the human race is slipping back to the heathen era and it disappoints me,’ she writes in her book, Manner for Moderns: Be the Best You Can Be – in Every Little Way.

Our dependence on technology, she says, has spoilt face-to-face communication and made us increasingly unaware of others. People send emails instead of writing letters, she says, and while I have to admit that emails are a hell of a lot more convenient than pen and paper, the ‘art’ of handwriting is going out of the window.

The mobile phone has introduced an era of selfishness – people walk down the street sending texts, heads down, crashing into you. The phone goes off in the cinema, the library, the bus, train. And where has personal style, gone?

I walk around Sydney and see people in smart suits, agreed, because they’re business folk out for lunch, but there’s no ‘overall’ sense of smartness about the western world I walk through. There are places where style still exists, admittedly – I was in Japan a few months ago and walking through the Ginza, the main shopping centre of Tokyo, I was stunned at the smart way people dressed. And manners were in abundance – all bows and smiles.

Somebody might, just might, stand for an elderly person on a bus in our western world, but would a male give up his seat for a more capable woman? No way.  We’re a selfish mob and it’s getting worse. In Britain the rioters looted and burned after rallying one another by mobile phone because they were dissatisfied with ‘their lot’ in life.

Perhaps we should dump them in the horn of Africa and let them find out what it’s really like to go hungry.

But I digress. If the internet crashed around the world one day – and I mean for all time – I wouldn’t shed a tear. It would mean that those who believed the best times have gone would start rejoicing. Old skills would be revived. Instead of watching moving pictures downloaded onto our computers, we might create imagery in our minds from a book or go to live theatre. There are untold areas of progress that leave me wondering if they really are progress. There are many gadgets we could do without. And with them gone, perhaps, our world would be all the better for it.