On January 25th my Dad celebrated his century. At dinner he regaled us with stories from the farm, his war service and his many adventures, and reminded us again that his century has been one of rapid and accelerating change.
When Dad was a boy, horses were more common than tractors or automobiles. His first “city job” was a bread route which he didn’t have to learn because the horse already knew it. Self-driving vehicles are nothing new.
He will tell you about their first radio, a crackly monster which brought the world into their living room, including the exciting and excitable Foster Hewitt and his Hockey Night in Canada. In those days people were famous because they did something remarkable, not because they were famous.
He remembers the first telephone in his community, then another and another until nearly everyone had one. But in those days, of course, everyone shared a party line and the switchboard operator knew more about everyone’s personal affairs than did the local clergyman.
War came and he went off to Europe in the Signals Corps, becoming an expert in telegraph and telephony. He moved forward as the front moved, setting up signal offices in caves, barns and hotels, some of which were still booby-trapped. A nice perk of the job was the ability to keep in touch with his English girlfriend (later his wife).
When he returned to Canada with his war bride, it was to an era of dizzying change. Trains and ships gave way to air travel. Gravel country roads became superhighways. Televisions, colour televisions, dial telephones and electric typewriters-- one marvel after another in quickening succession.
Dad became selective about which new technology to adopt-- a microwave oven was useful, for instance, but carrying a telephone around in one’s pocket didn’t strike him as practical. By the time Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and FaceTime arrived, he’d long since retired and his grandchildren, his gardening, his trees and his carpentry just never left him enough time to sit staring at a screen. Which may explain why he made the hundred.
I’ve learned from my Dad that you don’t need apps to be a great communicator. He’s understood all along the importance of some eternal essentials of human communication-- clear language, active listening, storytelling, warm and respectful personal engagement, and (key for him) knowing what you needed and wanted to say before starting the conversation. Now officially a centenarian, these skills and instincts continue to serve him well.
Photograph: Mum and Dad Bowley, Remembrance Day 2015
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.