It is indisputable that technology changes rapidly. We accept it and try to adjust to it. Sometimes though, the evidence of the change at blinding speed can hit so hard.
I experienced this recently when I visited the Perth Cultural Centre, where a portion of the complex is used as a Museum.
I had just finished the writing and editing phase of my book, Absolute Radio, a groundbreaking work that explores the foundation of private broadcasting in Ghana.
There was still a lot of work to do, including numerous finishing touches. Because I wanted to develop the work into an audiobook, that aspect alone still needed a lot of work, especially because I decided to read the entire book myself. This meant I had to adjust my mind to spending hours and days in the recording studio.
Nonetheless, I thought it was a good time to try and relax a bit with a family outing.
A Visit to the Museum
Even though the office for my day job in the city of Perth is not too far from the Cultural Centre, I almost never go there – at least, not for a relaxed visit for sightseeing. Increased Working-from-Home arrangements also means I don’t get to see the city as often as I used to.
As a result, arriving in the city with the family in a deliberately relaxed mode was refreshing.
There was very little traffic in the beautiful city, and finding a place to park was a breeze. Emerging from the underground parking, I felt the cultural complex was welcoming with a pleasing atmosphere. I found myself looking at the pristine buildings like a tourist as we made our way to the entrance of the Museum.
The Museum is also called Boola Bardip, a Whadjuk Nyoongar Aboriginal word meaning “Many Stories.”
The display is extensive, featuring a variety of different fields of knowledge, geography, history, culture and people. The geography section thoughtfully highlights the changing landscapes, wildlife, and marine life. Other sections of the display include innovations, special exhibitions, and learning studios. There is one portion featuring the full skeleton of a monstrous blue whale. With some adult blue whales known to reach up to 30 metres in length and weighing up to 200 tons, they are believed to be the largest animal to have ever lived.
The Ancient Supercomputer
Every bit of the entire collection was impressive, but I didn’t think I will write an article about the experience until we came to a section where a truly ancient mainframe computer was on display. It is as big as a large household refrigerator. Of course, it didn’t do much computing work by today’s standard. Used between 1968 to 1978, the mainframe computer was donated to the Museum by the Treasury Department. The display is accompanied by the following description:
“This was the first computer used by the Western Australian Government for general clerical work. Purchased for $388,000 in 1968, it was used by the Treasury Department until 1978 to process and print documents including driver’s licences, water rates, teachers’ pay slips and superannuation cheques.”
More descriptions shown about the mainframe computer almost made it unrecognisable as a computer.
“The computer used by the Treasury Department had three CRAM units, five tape drives, a printer, central processing unit, monitor, memory unit, and power supply unit,” explains the inscription near the display. This, clearly, was considered a supercomputer in its day.
The collection is carefully curated to help Museum visitors like me to appreciate how the introduction of computers radically changed workplaces and society.
Says another write-up at the exhibition: “From Australia’s first computer in 1949 advances in technology have eliminated the need for jobs such as typist. They have also created brand-new industries. The introduction of the smartphone has had a similar impact on lifestyles and workplaces, creating a mobile workforce and blurring the lines between work and home.”
The Relentless March of Technology
Right beside the old 1960s computer is an iPhone 4, the worl’d’s truly first smartphone released in 2010. I couldn’t make it out at first, even after I read the description beside the iconic rectangular glass.
“Mainframe computers like this one delivered requested data in 800 nanoseconds. By comparison, the iPhone 4 delivered data in 1.25 nanoseconds,” said the brief description, which also specified that the iPhone 4 was donated by R. Chadwick.
It was a quick lesson in contrasts.
The curators of the collection certainly wanted visitors to think and wonder about the relentless march of technology and how it changed our life through the years.
“The processing power of smartphones,” said the write-up, led to replacement of “a number of traditional work and lifestyle tools.”
The display features what seemed like a Socratic line of questions:
“Do you use a landline phone, music player, camera, video camera, atlas, compass, calculator, diary or alarm clock anymore?
That is a whopping nine items or tools now easily available on a tiny mobile phone.
There is no question about it: the march of technology is so relentless that even an iPhone 4 found a resting place at a Museum. Perhaps, it was used just to make a point, but it was still amazing and thought-provoking.
PS:the visit, described by Phillip Nyakpo occurred in the Southern Hemisphere winter in 2022. Phillip is the author of Absolute Radio, an inspiring true story that examines the foundation of Ghana’s private broadcasting industry. The book is due for global release on 6 September 2022 in Paperback, Kindle, eBook and Audiobook. He writes a blog regularly on www.nyakpo.com.au