I have not used Ceefax in at least 10 years, and after today, I never will be able to again because it is going away. To make an inside joke, if you were to go to page 606 now, you would find it to be completely blank, a fact that has somewhat unnerved me. The news that this service was being stopped came as a bit of a surprise, since just like the shipping forecast and the speaking clock, whilst I have no intention of actually using them, I have always been comforted by the knowledge that they are always there. Today's revelation has shattered that comfort, and given me pause for thought about what this actually means.
Of course, to anyone much younger than me, it probably doesn't mean anything. Many of such an age probably don't even know what Ceefax is, and those that do presumably see it as an ancient technology overdue for the scrapheap anyway. But to those of us who grew up with it, the Ceefax service was a media mainstay, and in the 80s and 90s it was as close as most households got to the internet. The ability to tap in a three digit code and then being presented with the latest news, weather, or sporting results was a wonderful convenience, and one that many could hardly imagine as ever being superseded.
The thing about Ceefax that was forgotten as soon as the internet became fast and ubiquitous was just what an enormous range of services it provided. From news to games, and from travel information to facts about the day, this was a one-stop shop well before Yahoo and AOL came along. Yes you had to wait for pages to load, and yes everything was in 16 colour chunks that distorted even the most simple map or diagram, but the point was it was all there, for free, right on your television set. I happen to think that is pretty special, and I will be the first to hold up my hand and admit that I didn't appreciate it whilst it was there, and now it is too late.
Since its introduction in 1974, the Ceefax service brought on-demand information to the public for free, but what is much more important to me is that it encouraged patience. I truly believe that I am of the last generation who are both willing and able to wait. I credit this ability to three things: computer games on cassette tape, dial-up internet, and Ceefax. To use any of these was an exercise in patience.
For example, starting on the news (101), if you wanted to get to the football results (302) you would be forced to wait for the counter to scroll up steadily before delivering you to your destination. Of course, there was always the chance that the service would inexplicably skip your page, and so you would have to wait for it to come around again. Furthermore, if the information you required was on a sub-page, you would have to wait patiently for Ceefax to flip through slowly but surely until you got there, before quickly hitting the hold button on your remote before it moved on. This is something that I do not believe the average 15-year-old today could manage.
Using Ceefax was admittedly a dreadfully frustrating process, and yet it was so utterly methodical, so completely logical, that everyone understood it and just accepted they would have to wait and let it work at its own pace. Sadly, in today's hyper-fast, hyper-connected world, waiting is an inconvenience few can stand. In the past 15 years we have traded dial-up for broadband, tapes for MP3s, and floppies for solid state drives. Now if we have to wait more than a couple of seconds for a website to load or a search to complete we will be tutting and drumming our fingers in impatience. Businesses spend millions to provide the fastest possible service to their customers because they are all too aware that a competitor who offers a more efficient service will steal the initiative and the market. It seems that people, quite literally, cannot afford to wait.
And so I urge you, if you take nothing else from this post, to think about whether demanding faster and more convenient services really is for the best. It might cost you a few extra seconds, but sometimes, doesn't the world just need to be a little more patient?
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