There is no Great Stagnation

So I\’m in Dresden overnight for a 6.30 am flight. No way to get from Freiberg to here by that time in the morning.

And having had a look around the area of this cheapo hotel (now\’t wrong w\’i\’t, just cheapo) nothing really appeals as a dining venue. Or even a drinking one.

However, there\’s a Lidl on the corner. Rye bread, sliced sausage (hey, this is Germany), packet of crispy things and a jar of hot dip, bottle of some odd end of bin red wine.

The red is a whole two years old now, a 2010, from SE Australia. Not prize worthy, no, but entirely drinkable (the hot dip helps).

All of this for under €5.

And as I\’m sipping I\’ve talked to my wife in Portugal about her and my days, when I\’ll arrive so she can pick me up, what we\’re going to do tomorrow evening (cost of call on roaming, maybe another €5). And I\’m clearly and obviously blogging on my €40 a month German Vodafone mobile access stick.

On a €300 computer.

It\’s possible to take this all different ways.

I\’m sitting in a foreign city, no previous knowledge of the place, eating a dinner which costs me less than 1 hour of minimum wage labour, a dinner which these days is regarded as hardship, a dinner which 200 years ago would have been exotically expensive (the wine, specifically) for the average Englishman. Bread and meat….it was around but not everyone was eating it.

I\’ve had an international phone call where the price, even on a mobile, makes the casual keeping in touch something that you\’re weird if you don\’t do. I\’m old enough to recall when an international phone call was something you thought about. I still work with people of my own age for whom an international phone call was something that the government specifically forbade. And for my parent\’s generation, it was something that you saved for and really, really, did not expect to do for mere trivialities like \”How are you?\”

And this blogging thing? Even mobile telecomms. They\’re both younger than I am (as is of course true of an increasing portion of the world).

I\’m afraid that, given that I can now do things for trivial cost that I did not dream would be possible in my youth. Heck, things that I did not think would be possible when I met my wife (being with someone for decades, sure, I knew that was possible, being able to chat to them while you\’re away at a price you can afford I didn\’t).

Given all of that….umm, what is this Great Stagnation that is being talked about?

33 comments on “There is no Great Stagnation

  1. Wot? No Skype? Free with pics. Oh, wait, perhaps there was something else, cheap, in the room you preferred to keep hidden…

  2. So measurements of GDP don’t keep up with improvements of quality of life? Who would think this a surprise apart from your (surely invented?) version of Mrs Dutt Paulker.
    Incidentally I’ve just topped up my UK sim with ten quid. I got a free sim because SFR is a rip off when you go out of France. Just got a message I can make 50 minutes of free international calls. I’ll try this tomorrow when the wife and kids aren’t asleep.
    Safe journey Tim

  3. What a great piece for use in my classes!

    P.S. I’m old enough to remember when I’d scam free international between the US and UK by having someone in the US place a collect call to the pay phone I’d be ready to answer in London 🙂

    P.P.S. There was even a pub somewhere around Goodge St. (The Rising Sun, maybe?) that had an old-fashioned phone booth inside for those collect calls in winter.

  4. Given all of that….umm, what is this Great Stagnation that is being talked about?

    I was wondering much the same thing when I read that Apple cannot produce enough iPhone 4S models, which cost the best part of $1,000, to satisfy demand in any country, and the Apple stores are rammed to the max at 8pm with people queuing up to buy them. Funny sort of depression, this.

  5. ” I’m old enough to recall when an international phone call was something you thought about”

    Hell, I can remember making a domestic phone call being something you thought about – and I’m only 40.

    Amongst my parents and their relations they had a code system that let you say “hello, I’m OK” without anyone having to pick up the phone (so no cost). Things like two rings, disconnect, wait five seconds, three rings, disconnect.

  6. Richard, yes, we did that.

    Also, less than 30 years ago, my father worked for British Telecom as an operator at the international exchange in Blackfriars. To make an international call, you needed to book a slot some time in advance. You would then call the international operator who would call his counterpart in the other country (“Hello, Miss Norway, this is England.”) to request the number that you wanted.

  7. The economic point is taken.

    But.

    German groceries are cheap, they are very very cheap. But they are very often truly horrid.

    People here are complete tightwads, especially with food. Quality is of absolutely no importance. Germans will not pay 5% more for something that’s 100% better. Germans deserve the regular scandals of “smoked” “salmon” that is neither smoked nor salmon, the reconstituted hams, the hoki that is made into your canteen friday special as if it is somehow magical just by being the blandest fish in the world, and the liberal lacing of everything with buckets of salt because real herbs and spices are more expensive.

    I think I need to go to Italy tomorrow to do my weekly shop, I don’t care that everything costs 3 times as much or that I’ll spend all day in the car, it is all better. It actually tastes of something. Except the incompetently-butchered (rather, randomly hacked at) meat and complete absence of game.

  8. Interesting that your German dongle’s costing 40€/m. Contract free one presumes? Data limit? I just checked SFR’s site for mobile net & non-contract is 9.90€/m but that’s for 250Mb/m. From what I can work out, contracts, they’re still selling internet by the minute. (Try that at very slow speeds in deepest rural France). Spain, my contract mobile stick is costing me 23€/m for 1Gb at full speed (quoted 2,5Mb/sec in reality about equivalent to my old UK dial-up) then it slows to the point where it’d probably quicker to write lines of code on bits of paper & tie them to the legs of carrier pigeons.
    Both these providers insist you buy a dongle to enjoy the service. Germany too?
    On the phone side, my Spanish PAYG is 18c mobile to mobile. Heaven knows what my French one is. Ordinary calls were 16c/m but they debit 1.50€ ‘prelevement’ irrespective. Without the ‘prelevement’ option I think it was 35c/m couple years ago.

    I’ll be visiting the UK the near future. If my SIM from last year doesn’t work I’ll get a free one from a provider, stick £15 on it, shove it in one of my accumulated dongles & I’ll have 10Gb high speed for a month. Phone calls are what? 8p/m to fix, 15p/m to cell? Maybe less now I’m out of touch.

    I’ve quoted all this rather tedious info because it shows that our continental friends don’t really seem to be getting this communication stuff . Cheaper it is the more people use it. In the end they actually spend more on it in total. Set the gateway cost too high & they don’t use it at all. Happened to me when I first moved to France. A PAYG mobile internet service equivalent to the UK one I left behind would have been close to 300€/m. And as far as I can see they still don’t permit VOIP telephony. Glommed free wifi off of MickyD’s & didn’t bother.

    Don’t they realise that good cheap communications are good for business? That looking at the shop’s website for an item is more productive than driving 50km to the store & searching the shelves? That a connected world is a richer world?

    Yanks get it even better than us, I gather.

  9. Also – get a German sim card if you are here any length of time. Calls to all of Europe with blau.de are 9 cents a minute. I actually got a dual sim phone because I was fed up with the horrendous international charges on most functional networks.

  10. If I’m double posting this, I apologise. F**k knows what’s hit the Spanish data highway this morning. Road works? Page load speeds measured in minutes?

    Interesting that your German dongle’s costing 40€/m. Contract free one presumes? Data limit? I just checked SFR’s site for mobile net & non-contract is 9.90€/m but that’s for 250Mb/m. From what I can work out, contracts, they’re still selling internet by the minute. (Try that at very slow speeds in deepest rural France). Spain, my contract mobile stick is costing me 23€/m for 1Gb at full speed (quoted 2,5Mb/sec in reality about equivalent to my old UK dial-up) then it slows to the point where it’d probably quicker to write lines of code on bits of paper & tie them to the legs of carrier pigeons.
    Both these providers insist you buy a dongle to enjoy the service. Germany too?
    On the phone side, my Spanish PAYG is 18c mobile to mobile. Heaven knows what my French one is. Ordinary calls were 16c/m but they debit 1.50€ ‘prelevement’ irrespective. Without the ‘prelevement’ option I think it was 35c/m couple years ago.

    I’ll be visiting the UK the near future. If my SIM from last year doesn’t work I’ll get a free one from a provider, stick £15 on it, shove it in one of my accumulated dongles & I’ll have 10Gb high speed for a month. Phone calls are what? 8p/m to fix, 15p/m to cell? Maybe less now I’m out of touch.

    I’ve quoted all this rather tedious info because it shows that our continental friends don’t really seem to be getting this communication stuff . Cheaper it is the more people use it. In the end they actually spend more on it in total. Set the gateway cost too high & they don’t use it at all. Happened to me when I first moved to France. A PAYG mobile internet service equivalent to the UK one I left behind would have been close to 300€/m. And as far as I can see they still don’t permit VOIP telephony. Glommed free wifi off of MickyD’s & didn’t bother.

    Don’t they realise that good cheap communications are good for business? That looking at the shop’s website for an item is more productive than driving 50km to the store & searching the shelves? That a connected world is a richer world?

    Yanks get it even better than us, I gather.

  11. Re @6,7 & 8
    Did anyone else use the free call fiddle in the old coin boxes? The ones with buttons A & B? Pick up the phone & tap the number out on the handset rest bar. One tap for 1, 2 for 2, ….10 for zero. Back then the exchanges were the first three letters ie BAYswater so you transposed to the appropriate number (letters were different from today. ABC were at 1 ,O was at zero. One of the numerals only had 2 letters allocated to it.) It connected the call without entering money. Think it worked because you were using the facility that provided free service calls.

  12. I think the UK has slipped behind the continent on the communications thing. All examples are PAYG

    Mobile – DE vodafone, 5 cents/min to other vodafones, 15 cents/minute to other networks or landlines. Most resellers do 9 cents/minute for any call anywhere in Europe or the ESW. Many resellers specialise in cheap calls (under 30c/min) to exotic destinations. Day’s mobile internet is 1 euro. Day’s mobile internet using a laptop 3 euro, longer periods obviously cheaper per day – and all wiht no subscription or contract.

    Compare to the UK, where I’ve just ditched Virgin – many years ago they were 5p/min for all landline and virgin calls (rather more for other networks). They’ve been going up for a long time such that now they are 26p/min. Only the deal I got (Orange) isn’t much better – 20p/min, which is about typical for PAYG on the real networks.

    Also the standard German domestic phone connection is full ISDN, which means two phone lines as standard. That’s damn useful, as is the fact that for €4 a month I get flatrate calls to Europe/ESW.

  13. When I was a child most phone calls from home had to wait until 6pm when the rates got cheaper. And I do remember tapping out numbers on the switch hook, not in a coin box but to get round some restriction I forget the details of.

  14. I’m 40, and we didn’t get a phone at home until I was 14. You walked 300 yards to the phone box to make a call. To receive a call, emergencies only, meant going to a neighbour up the road.

  15. Amongst my parents and their relations they had a code system that let you say “hello, I’m OK” without anyone having to pick up the phone (so no cost). Things like two rings, disconnect, wait five seconds, three rings, disconnect.

    Yup, us too. 3 rings = Grandparents got home safely. Good old BT rates!

  16. Happened to me when I first moved to France. A PAYG mobile internet service equivalent to the UK one I left behind would have been close to 300€/m. And as far as I can see they still don’t permit VOIP telephony.

    The whole of Total’s worldwide communications uses VOIP, all run through their Paris HQ.

  17. “Pick up the phone & tap the number out on the handset rest bar”: I was taught that as a fresher. As you’d expect, I was corrupted by Public Schoolboys.

  18. @Ian Bennett, yes I remember that too, when my dad first visited the US on business – early sixties I would guess?

    And when I first went to Uni, you couldn’t even dial direct from St. Andrews to darkest Suffolk. You had to call the operator and ask for the number. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

  19. STD – subscriber trunk dialling was what 1970-ish? All those ladies knitting in exchanges suddenly bereft of gossip…

  20. Mr Newman @ 19

    I wasn’t aware that Total routed all their telecoms through an Orange PAYG dongle. Must get might warm.

  21. @ 21,22.
    I heard that the Essex exchange where I was living was one of the last ones to go dial-up.

    Used to phone the girlfriend most evenings & the conversation at my end was usually simply:
    “Evening”
    “Yes”
    “Thanks”
    And then I was talking to my beloved.
    It’s only since reading Mr Diogenes’ comment it occurs that our steamy sessions might well have had a third party. Should think there were a few dropped stitches….

    Also remember needing to make a call in the wee small ones. An hour waiting for the telephonist to wake up. Ended up walking into the village & banging on the door.

  22. BiS
    Free are going into mobile in France with some tasty offers. I expect that Bouyges SFR and Orange will have to react – just goes to show that if you stamp on the tail of a dinosaur hard enough, eventually…
    Of course you can use Skype anywhere, but with my face for radio…

  23. I wasn’t aware that Total routed all their telecoms through an Orange PAYG dongle. Must get might warm.

    Dunno how they do it TBH, but they might be big enough to have installed their own network. When we dial anyone from our Nigerian phones, it comes up as a French number (the main reception at Coupole Tower, to be exact).

  24. Oh yes, those steamy evening calls to the loved one. Waiting for the payphone in halls of residence. Or in a student hall in Germany where the floor clubbed together to have a phone, one with a ticker on the top for the units, everyone had to write down the units they used on the list and pay the poor sod whose name was on the bill every month. Of course plenty of people stole units and we all had to pay for those. About 40 pfennigs a minute to call the UK, and hope someone in her hall was sober enough to answer the payphone. I think most of my student grant (what that? ed.) went on it. At least we could direct dial.

  25. Tim I agree with on the whole. Although I think the cost of housing is probably a lot more than it was in the past.
    Bearing in mind that my wage is similar to my Dad’s and I can’t afford the same house as he could afford in 1983 – I think this is probably true.

    Of course that is because the Government takes money from me and gives it to other people so they can have a nicer home than me via the tax and benefit system because they do something more desirable than working (like being a single mum)

  26. 1976 – “The last manual exchange in the United Kingdom at Portree in the Isle of Skye closed. The UK telephone system was now fully automatic. ”

    [although there are a few web references to manual exchanges surviving into 1979, but no details of where]

    Scotland wasn’t that far behind the rest of us:
    1975 – “The last manual exchange in England, at Abingdon, Berkshire, ended ”

    Although Essex was indeed backwards by south east standards:
    1970 “Upminster, Essex, London Telecommunications Region’s last manual exchange”
    1973 “The last London Telecommunications Region exchange to be converted went STD at Nazeing, Essex”
    1998 Leigh on Sea was the last exchange in the UK to go digital.

    (STD meaning Subscriber Trunk Dialling (i.e. automatic long-distance rather than just automatic local), rather than the sort of thing bloke in spain might have been hoping to get the chance of trying to catch from his girlfriend)

    http://www.britishtelephones.com/histuk.htm

  27. Businesses presumably had manual exchanges even later; I wonder when the last ones went?

    Anyway, that’s enough of that; I’m off to the pub.

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