I’ve had a letter.
Nothing unusual in that you might say…… but it IS unusual and noteworthy these days to receive a hand-written letter, on sumptuous writing paper, in a hand-written envelope, from a real person, telling me all about her new miniature toy shop and requesting a paper copy of our catalogue.
Personally I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a letter by hand. If I have the choice I will always type it on my laptop and print it. I’ll even print the address label.
This set me thinking about how much the way I do business has changed in the 25+ years since I started Tower House Dolls.
Back then in the 80s I had an electric typewriter and my ‘catalogue’ consisted of a single typewritten sheet which I would take to the post office to be ‘Xeroxed.’ (Prior to that, when I was a student in the 70s, I'd had an ancient Remington manual typewriter which required force equivalent to a small pony sitting on the keys to make an impression on the paper.)
A few years on and I was the proud owner of a duplicating machine, which I regarded as one of the wonders of the modern world. For those of tender years, THIS is a duplicating machine, although mine was very old and decrepit..
I bought mine second hand from the Parish Council, who were upgrading to a new-fangled electric model. It was ENORMOUS!.... mounted on top of a large storage cabinet. It was so big I had to keep in one of the outbuildings as we couldn’t get it in the house.
Printing anything was a time-consuming business. First I had to cut a stencil. I could either do this by hand or using my electric typewriter. Then I had to schlep down the garden to the machine and load the stencil onto the drum. The ink was a nightmare…. Like tar…thick, viscous and very, very black. It got everywhere and was impossible to remove from clothing. I had to prime the drum to ensure a thin, even layer of ink, then do a test print.
Generally there was problem every time as the machine was very temperamental. As it was manual I had to turn a huge handle and watch carefully for any of the multitude of problems which might arise…. Too much ink, not enough ink, ink blotches, paper jams, wrinkles in the stencil. Ink had to be allowed time to dry otherwise it smeared across the page and double sided printing was only undertaken under exceptional circumstances with the aid of a stiff drink beforehand to steady the nerves.
A few years further on and I was the proud owner of an Amstrad word processor with a green screen monitor and dot matrix printer. It might have looked like a computer but it wasn't. It was a glorified typewriter.
I had access to FOUR different fonts. How exciting was that?!
Instead of laboriously making corrections on the page I could fix them instantly on the screen and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. With the click of a button I could print out copy after copy. Only text of course, but I was in seventh heaven.
Fast forward a few more years and I sat uncomprehending before a PC, watching a cursor blinking on the monitor. I think the OS was Windows 3, immediately pre-dating the famous Windows 95 which started the Internet revolution.
Moving from word-processor to computer meant a learning curve so vertical it was obtuse.
I did a college course to learn Word, Excel and Access and I joyfully embraced desktop publishing, learning how to import and manipulate digital images. I could print entire brochures in full colour.
Of course the world hasn’t stopped there. Nowadays I can create an interactive online catalogue in the form of our website.
I have slideshows, videos, podcasts and live video conferencing at my fingertips.
I can create an interactive e-book with embedded hyperlinks and video.
I can communicate with existing and prospective customers via this blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Skype or my smartphone…… the possibilities are endless.
And all of this has happened in a just 25 years…. a mere quarter of a century. Which, when you consider that the first printing press came into use over 550 years ago is nothing short of amazing.
However, despite my delight in the written word, and the undoubted wonders of modern technology, I can’t help feeling a pang of regret at the loss of the hand-written epistle, and the joy of receiving a ‘proper’ letter.