ISBN 0 946027 501
by James Lilek's 'Institute of Official Cheer', I hereby present an artefact
from a more recent time and place - an anonymous little book I picked up
for ten pence in a basement bookshop. It is from Britain in 1983, not a
If you were a bit of a rake in 1983 and you wanted a fast car, you bought an Alfa Romeo Alfasud, for £6,240 (a year or two later it would rust to bits and you would buy one of those German motors). You lived in a house which cost on average £29,993. You might have considered voting for the exciting new SDP. As it turned out the Conservative Party won 42% of the vote, a landslide to match that of the Labour Party in 2001. Terry Wogan was doing Blankety Blank and he had a chat show, too; Blind Date and Eastenders did not yet exist.
'Hi-Tech Homes' isn't at all famous, and I only bought it for the sake of nostalgia. I had never heard of it before. The image on the left and the headline above constitute the frontispiece of the book. The font above was a favourite of Peter Saville, designer for New Order and Joy Division, and is a 1983 equivalant of the old Space 1999-style 'computer font', or the 70s-tastic 'Eurostile', a glimpse of which sparks memories of prefabricated concrete shopping centres and orange plastic chairs.
This isn't supposed to be a right old laugh at how stupid and short-sighed people were in 1983; most of the gadgets and ideas in the book are still around today, although nobody now gets excited about microwave ovens. In terms of fashion, and speaking from personal experience, the popular memory of shoulder-pads, big hair, and New Romantic eyeshadow is dead wrong; some people might have looked like that, but not outside London, and not during the day. And they were vastly outnumbered by the metallers, who have been largely erased from history.
One thing that irrevocably distances 'Hi-Tech Homes' from the present day is the earnestness of it all. There isn't any irony and some of the articles are wordy and written by specialists. The modern equivalent of 'Hi-Tech Homes' would be something like Wired magazine, filled with pictures of the latest mobile phones, with as little text as possible.
It's easy to mock people from the past, and their blind faith in technology, and their idea that because something was new, it was good. But we still live in that era; whereas in 1983 people wasted their money on pop music, today people waste their money on downloadable ring-tones.
(c) Ashley Pomeroy 2001