1. Introduction

It's the early 1950s. My father is sitting in his easy chair with his feet up in front of the fire reading the newspaper. My mother is at the table, writing a letter to an aunt, with a fountain pen. She's thanking her for the black and white photographs of her newborn nephew. Later she'll walk to the post box down the road so she get's the letter tomorrow. My sister is sitting at the table doing her homework - maths - flicking through her book of tables and writing a lot in pencil on scrap paper as she tries to solve the problems. I am sitting in the corner, bathed in the orange glow coming from the dial of the walnut-veneered radio in front of me as I twiddle its bakelite knobs. To avoid disturbing the others I have my father's headphones on. These have the usual spikes on the earpieces that join the leather headstrap, making me look like a little alien. Nevertheless the world is at my feet as I scroll through the intriguing names before me, sampling the various offerings. Wherever are Hilversum, Murmansk, Helsinki and Yaasa? Classical music seems very popular, but there seems to be news on some channels, in strange languages. Occasionally there is laughter, so that must be a comedy programme - if I could only understand it. And occasionally a burst of jazz music. And why is the reception always better when it's dark outside?

Fast-forward seventy years. Father is stretched out on the couch watching the news on the plasma-screen TV, occasionally zapping through the hundreds of channels available in search of something more interesting/less sad. Mother is in the kitchen with her computer on the table, answering some work emails, available - at least if she wants - at any time of day. My sister is sat in her bedroom with her school books and her programmable calculator, ostensibly finishing her maths homework, but really I know she's scrolling through her phone screen and exchanging messages and pictures in real time with her friends. And I am in my bedroom in front of my laptop, immersed in the artificial world of Minecraft along with some schoolmates who are likely also in their homes, and listening to my favourite playlist on my ear-buds, which, coincidentally, make me look like a little alien.

Despite the common features, these two scenes are worlds apart. Somehow we have gone from one to the other. But even living through it, as I have, it is easy to forget how we as humans have made such fundamental changes in the way we all, at least in the developed and developing world, interact. There were massive steps and innovations along the way, but what were they? And how did one innovation take advantage of another, to move us forward?

Here I'll explore these changes, by looking particularly at the fields of telephony, television and radio, computing, data exchange, music, photography and "movies" (to cover both film and video), to try to spot the big steps that brought us to where we are today. These steps are not just technological innovations which made previous solutions obsolete. They also involved deliberate human decision-making to cooperate and work together, and to select one solution over another in order to make progress, often with unexpected pleasantly surprising results.

In exploring these topics, rather than taking each of these fields in turn, I am going to cut across them to highlight four main groups of innovations that have had the most impact. These are first of all the huge changes we have made in the means by which we communicate itself, secondly the increasing thirst to satisfy our personal entertainment choices, thirdly the growth of computers to be able to provide almost all our work and entertainment organisational needs, and fourthly the ability of our brains to be fooled by compression techniques, which has led to our ability to easily exchange quality visual and audio material.

  Contents Chapter 2