pre-digital technolgy

Memories of pre-digital technology


Today I’m going to share with you some of the technology every  80’s office girl had to master. Younger readers have probably never heard of many of these things. Anyone over 50 will probably enjoy a quiet chuckle over the standard office equipment of pre-digital technology

Sylvester switchboard.

Remember the old Sylvester switchboard, with flashing lights, switches and a myriad of cords and plugs? To answer a call you would pull out a cord and slot the plug at the end under the flashing light. To connect the call you would then place the corresponding cord and plug into the extension, pulling a switch to make the phone ring at the other end. On a busy day you would have flashing lights and a maze of interconnecting cords to deal with.  A very high risk of disconnecting or mis-connecting calls. Forget to flick switches and you wound up with a “party line” – everyone can hear everyone else’s calls.

To make a call, when you picked up the phone, the switch-girl had to connect your extension to an outside line with the cords when your line flashed.  If the staff wanted to prank the office girl, they would co-ordinate for everyone to pick up their phones at once, making the switch light up like a Christmas tree.

Mobile phone? That meant the cord on your phone was long enough to reach across to the next desk.

Manual typewriters

Who learned to touch type on a manual typewriter, with a tea towel over your hands? Remember the grimy job of changing the ribbon, and shifting the lever to access the red ink at the bottom of the strip? Electric typewriters then became the latest technology, were faster, easier on the wrists and had a cartridge you slipped in and out to change the ink. The really flash ones could program frequently used phrases, such as “Yours faithfully”.


There was no backspacing or auto-correct on a typewriter. If you made a mistake, you had a little slip of paper with white powder on the back which you slotted behind the ribbon. You re-typed your mistake, the powder covering the type and you could then retype the correct word. Electric typewriters brought with them corrector tape, where you could backspace and the tape would lift the type off the page before correcting.

Carbon paper

With no digital copies, we used carbon paper between three sheets of paper to type our letters in triplicate.  The copies were pretty messy if you had been overactive with the tippex or corrector tape. To make corrections, you had to re-type the entire document.

Telex machine

The pre-cursor to email, the telex machine kept you connected with the outside world. Simply type in your message, which would generate a long paper tape encoded with dots and dashes. Once you had dialled the destination telex, you then fed this tape through to transmit your message to the other end. I was considered quite a techno whizz in the 80’s, as I could actually cut out the tape and type in real time to Jenny in our Adelaide office.


Many avid photographers still use film photography.  Remember having to load the camera with film, making sure it didn’t get exposed to light? Amateur photographers had to take their films to the pharmacy or film processing centre for developing. Then came an agonising two week wait to see which, if any of your 24 photos had actually turned out.  You still had to pay for the duds.

Working in a news room, we had a darkroom. Here the technician would wade through chemicals of dubious potency to bring the weekend’s shots to life. But just like above, you had to wait and see if the shots had actually turned out.

Then there was the nuisance of running out of film at the worst possible moment. Or even worse, firing off magnificent shots, with no film in the camera. Argghh.

Most of this technology is so long forgotten, I couldn’t even find stock images to share with you.

Do you remember any now defunct office technology from when you first started work?

Read also: Keeping pace with modern life
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