In my school days there was often publicity about the miniaturisation of circuits, development of computers, and potential automation. By the early 1970’s progress was frantic and we were told that an era of automation would make our lives simple, working would be reduced to 3 days/week and gadgets would take over the menial tasks leaving us to enjoy our free time.

Well, some of it came true and some of the technical innovation probably exceeded even the wildest dreams. But what happened to our “easy life?”

Massive progress has been made with mobile phones.

I read that the smart phone in your pocket has far more computer capability than all the equipment on the Apollo 11 spacecraft used for the first manned moon-landing, 20 July 1969. Those guys flew that mission manually!

If Neil Armstrong were making that Giant Step now he would probably have a smart phone in hand for a ‘selfie’ having used the Sat-Nav to find his way there. Once established he would use an app to order a fast food delivery before calling home.

Young people cannot function without a mobile phone. It is always in their hand or close by and often in continuous service.

In my years working as a taxi driver I would take youngsters to Newcastle for a night out. “Where to please?” “Oh, hang on driver, I will check.” After a flurry of texts I might get some instructions. “The Gate, please.” Half way along Scotswood Road there might be another message. “No, make that the Bigg Market.” And so it went on.

“Do you never make arrangements?” I would ask. The question went over their heads. We had no mobiles and simply arranged our next meet-up before our night out ended. Then we had the commitment to turn up as arranged, perhaps a week later. No second chance with the phone. Many of us ‘oldies’ still do it.

In my young days, not only did we not have a phone in our pocket, we did not have a phone in the house! As a schoolboy with a bike, it was often my job to race to the nearest phone box in times of family emergencies, of which we seemed to have quite a few. There would be a doctor on call, if I could catch him. Then, remember whether to press button A to connect or button B for a refund. Or was it the other way round? Woe betide me if I returned with no doctor and no pennies!

In my first job handling technical enquiries for a steel works I dealt with customers and associated companies. They would write to us via snail mail, we would consider their problem and compile a response before replying, also by snail mail. A reply within a week was considered very good service. By the time I left the steel industry in 2004 we had progressed through telephones, Telex, Telefax and Texts to Emails,  conference calls and video link-ups. When a customer asked for information they expected an immediate reply. What happened to our 3 day week and easy life? The whole idea has back-fired putting workers under intolerable pressures. I often commented that everyone expects us to know all the answers before they have even asked the questions. There was no thinking or research time allowed.

One Boxing Day we had a customer report of a mill breakdown in South East Asia that had occurred at 1900Hr 25 December! My boss muttered something about serving them right for working on Christmas Day! They still expected an immediate response.