Retailing history

Is it a coincidence that email was invented a year after the Beatles disbanded? On October 5, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ first single, Love Me Do. It peaked at number 17 – the moptops started topping the UK charts a year later, in 1963, about which Philip Larkin wrote a poem called Annus Mirabilis, whose first line is best not quoted here. (We are a family newspaper.) Those were the days. Old-timers will recall the Beatlemania did not end even when the band broke up in 1970. Such was their appeal they influenced everything from music to fashion. Youngsters now listening to the music or seeing pictures from that era may wonder what the fuss was all about, but society was so caught up in that cultural ferment that ordinary people hardly noticed the stirrings of the digital revolution. The first email was sent in late 1971 by computer engineer Roy Tomlinson, an MIT graduate. Not even he remembers the exact date. It was a test message he sent to himself from one computer to another sitting right beside it in Cambridge, Massachusetts, via ARPANET, a computer network that was the precursor to the internet. ARPANET was meant for use in US universities and research laboratories, so it was of little interest to the popular media.

Computers caught on only in the 80s – and, even then, old-timers will recall journalists were not initially allowed to use them in newspapers in Kolkata. They would write their stories on typewriters and pass them to compositors for typesetting on computers. This way, the compositors could keep their jobs.

Now, of course, almost everybody uses computers – and not just email but social media. Facebook and Twitter are used for everything from marketing to politics. When Mamata Banerjee wants to share her views, she posts them on Facebook. So what if  Facebook, Inc is a US company like Walmart, which she wouldn’t allow into this country? Facebook is free, popular, thousands read what she posts there. No wonder she uses it, like so many others. That is why she is opposed to the entry of retail giants like Walmart and Tesco. Smaller local retailers may not be able to compete with them on prices and stocks. Mom-and-pop shops may be forced out of business. Millions depend on them for their livelihoods. We can’t let them go the way of the compositors. And there are old-timers who still miss the Beatles.

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