Inventions of a lifetime

Do you ever think about how much things have changed in your lifetime? Things we never thought of before, but then we got them and they have become a very important part of our lives?

When I was a child my family wasn’t rich, but my parents owned a house, so we were better off than most.

We heated that house with a coal oven in the living room and one in the kitchen. We also had one in the bathroom that was supposed to heat our bathing water, but I don’t remember it ever working. Instead of using the bath tub we used a wash tub in the laundry room, because we also had no washing machine or dryer, and several times a week after my mom did the laundry by hand we used the leftover heat to take a nice bath – mom, dad, grandma and all the children – not all at once, but in turns. I think we got the first washing machine when I was around 8.

We also had a radio but no television till I was about 8 years old, and we had no car till I was 10, but barely anybody had one at that time.

I don’t remember exactly when it was we got it, but there was a telephone in the house most of my childhood – a white one with a rotary dial.

When I was about 12 years old, I got my own transistor radio for my birthday. It was very simple, only had two buttons, but I remember how annoying it was that my dad didn’t think I would be able to use it without instructions from one of my brothers, who didn’t have a radio himself – you know, me being a girl and all. I had that radio for many years.

17 years old I moved to Hamburg to work for the national German telephone company. The biggest part of my job was to give information about telephone numbers in Germany, but I also worked with radio contact to ships out on the ocean and to what back then was the other part of Germany – DDR. To connect people, we used those tables you sometimes see in old movies, you know, where the operator first talks with the person who is calling, then calls the recipient, pushes a plug into a board to make the connection and later pulls it out again to disconnect.

We also gave information about phone numbers in other – European – countries.

Instead of phone books for Germany we had micro fiches we put into boxes that looked like what we today think is an old computer screen. That way each of us could have all the German phone books right at our desks.

For the other European countries we had no fiches but phone books, and I remember that we often had to call the other countries to get newer numbers. I especially remember calling Copenhagen in Denmark in summer, where it often happened that they only picked up the phone to tell us that they could not take the phone because they had a thunderstorm. Most telephone cables in Denmark were hanging from pole to pole over the ground at that time, and it did happen that the poles or the cables were struck by lightning, which could be fatal, if one was talking on the phone at the same time.

I think it was in the seventies and eighties that countries got international numbers, so people in one country can call people in another country without using an operator and a switch board. Some countries got their international numbers even later.

I only started high school when I was 20, and the first computer I ever worked with was a gigantic one that filled a whole room at my high school, and it had no key board and no screen. The only thing I remember we used it for was to see, if we were able to think logically. We got some questions and to answer them we had to draw lines on cards with a led pen and put the cards into a slot in the computer. After a while it told us if we were right or wrong. That was all it could do, but the computer did cost a fortune.

The first person I knew had a mobile phone was my now brother in law. About 25 years ago he worked for a phone company and sometimes he had to be on standby during weekends, so he had his mobile phone with him where ever he went. It was huge, the size of a suitcase, with a rotary dial and a hand piece of the same kind as a normal oldfashioned phone and a cable between the suitcase and the hand piece. The whole neighborhood envied my brother in law for that mobile phone.

I think it was sometime in the beginning of the nineties I was invited to a meeting where we discussed the possibilities of the internet. That was the very first I ever heard about the world wide web. Denmark wasn’t connected to it at that time, and I remember leaving the meeting with more questions than answers.  I had got my first fax machine only a few years earlier and wasn’t able to imagine in what way the internet would be different.

Around the same time I decided to drop out of university and work as a translator full time. Only problem was that until then I’d used a manual type writer and didn’t know much about computers and book keeping, so I took a year at another school to learn those things.

The operating system our computers at the school used was DOS and we used lots of macros and short cuts to get around in our programs.

Some of us had heard about something called Windows and of a mouse and cursor, but our teachers didn’t believe in it. “Those are toys” they said. “No, you learn WordPerfect and the short cuts and you will be set for life”.

At the school we also used matrix printers and the new hot thing – bubble jet printers.

A short while later I got my first dial up connection to the internet at home, but I still worked with DOS and without a mouse for a long time.

Since then I’ve worked with computers and many different programs as a supervisor, but mostly as a user, and since I rely on computers for my freelance work, I have two functioning computers.

A few months ago I also replaced my trusty old brick of a ten years old mobile phone with a new smartphone, so now I have the whole wide world at my fingertips always, and every day I’m in contact with customers of mine in other European countries, but also the US, Canada, Australia, China, India. Who would have thought it possible back in the days when I was a child?

We’ve come very far over the last 50 years. Who knows what the next 50 will bring.

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