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Technology's great, but I miss that human factor

By Ian Morrison | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-09-15 08:09
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Automation is a wonderful thing which adds so much convenience to our daily lives.

For example, I am "writing" this article on my mobile phone, whereas in previous generations this would have required a cumbersome and bulky typewriter, and any mistake would have to be manually corrected.

When I started work as a journalist in the 1990s, we were already using computers, but by today's standards they would probably be considered nothing better than electronic word-processing machines linked to an office-wide network.

And in those days, the internet hardly even existed in the form that we know today: There was one "machine" (as we quaintly referred to that computer in those days) which was connected to the World Wide Web, and pretty much its sole purpose was to receive the emails sent to the newspaper.

Even doing this was a time-consuming chore as what we laughably called the "connection" was by dial-up, that is, a regular telephone connection, and something as simple as receiving all of the emails that accumulated overnight took as much as 20 minutes.

Nowadays, such a procedure takes place almost instantaneously and there's no need for a special "machine" to serve this purpose.

But have we all become too dependent on this magic technology at our fingertips?

Now we are reliant on more factors that we never had to consider in those days. Is the mobile phone charged adequately? Is there a reliable mobile or Wi-Fi connection? And for all of the sophisticated electronic equipment we use in the modern age to produce newspapers, what happens if there is a power cut?

Back in the 1980s, the newspaper I would later work at in London was still producing newspapers using typewriters and hot metal printing, a technology which largely owed itself more to the 19th century than the late 20th century.

Because so much more depended on the human factor in those days, there were many ways in which things could go wrong.

Take for example the procedure of a reporter sending in a story from an out-of-office assignment. Today, this is easily done by email or instant messaging.

In those days, it all hinged on a reporter scribbling in a notebook and then dictating the story by phone (usually from a smelly public telephone box) to a copy taker at the newspaper.

Every newspaper has its legends, and one at my old newspaper in London was about a copy taker who was rather partial to a lunchtime drink (or three).

This charming old lady once took down a story from a reporter which looked like it was written in code. As she was a little off-balance after her liquid lunch, although she was a first-class touch typist (an essential qualification for such a job), her fingers were hitting the keys adjacent to the correct ones. So the story was literally in code!

Perhaps today's young reporters need to appreciate the multitude of practical problems we faced in those long-gone days and they will realize how much better off they have it today.


Ian Morrison





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