On pens, paper and a past world
Last night I watched a “documentary” about the Seventies. It was really an excuse to use all the naughty words and scenes that are now banned from view. Assorted young people expressed mock horror.
It got me thinking about that pre-online era , its lack of monitoring and surveillance, its strange innocence of the seedy corruption now being so ruthlessly exposed. Swearing was still considered improper in mixed company or outside the privacy of the home. And homes were still considered private space. If someone had seriously suggested we shouldn’t smoke in them or have a drink while nursing our infants, we would have gaped at them in amazement.
Nobody checked up on you much, record keeping was often sporadic and haphazard. When all you had was paper and pen, or a typewriter that demanded carbon copies and correcting fluid, recording every detail was too onerous and bulky to be manageable.
Of course, the opportunities for evil to flourish were manifest, but for most people, I point out to the judgemental young of the online era, this didn’t impinge hugely on their day-to-day lives.
I particularly loved the job references of those days. They were seldom wordy. One of my favourites, which conjured up a whole world picture in a single sentence, was elegantly hand written on ancient college notepaper.
” Alisdair’s First in Classics was well-deserved.”
Poor Fiona, however, was given shorter shrift from her employer.
“Miss Smith is a well-spoken, neatly presented young woman, who has been with us for two years”
Yet when I look at the painstakingly documented minutae on today’s profiles and portfolios, I wonder how much more they actually tell us about the essential Alistair or Fiona, than those single sheets of the past.
We’re smothered with all the mountainous documentation on multiple competences, which information technology has made possible. Hundreds upon hundreds of boxes meticulously ticked, but has the quality of work/workers and the culture of the work environment really been manifestly improved?
Of course we can never easily tell, ironically because of those very deficiencies of record keeping and patchy measures (if any) used in the past. Commentators on the Seventies are free to claim whatever suits their own perspective and ideology.
All I can say for sure is that, despite all the information we now have, it doesn’t seem to prevent the corrupt practices of global business, the powerful elites or the authoritarian, opinionated, politically polarised gatekeepers of public services. It doesn’t even prevent the brutal murder of little children in their cruel homes and disfunctional CCTVed communities, nor the institutional ill-treatment of the old and vulnerable.
We little people just know more about it now.
We can see it on television.
Just like all the explicit brutality and close-up, lip-licking violence that was never ever screened in the benighted Seventies; the online porn desensitising a whole generation; the dubious faux porn of pop videos degrading “emancipated” young women; the pitiless exploitation and humiliation of the afflicted in “reality” shows; the freak shows masquerading as medical “documentaries”.
All in all, the Seventies weren’t the worst time to be alive – despite all that shiny artificial satin and those silly platform shoes.