NEWS

What life was like back in the days before mobile phones, the Internet, multiplexes and pay TV

While flicking through a Sunday newspaper from 1993, I came upon one of the first (if not the first) advertisements for mobile phones. It was a simple, single-page ad, just a few days before Christmas, extolling the advantages of this new technology to the still unschooled Greeks. «Clear communication, immediate and continuous contact» – and a few lines further down – «no more problems with sound interference, interruptions, repeated efforts to get a line.» I was speechless and felt as if I was reading a 1963 issue of the magazine Eikones or watching a cinema newsreel of the 1950s about the latest technological achievements – like refrigerators, ice-cream makers, pioneering tape recorders and televisions. Suddenly 1993 seemed as distant as 1975 or 1980. «Repeated efforts to get a line?» Where are we? I remembered that one of the biggest of life’s daily problems in 1993 was just having a telephone line connected, finding someone to use their influence to avoid the 10-months wait for a fixed line. And when the miracle occurred, there were other problems – actually getting through to the person you were calling and being able to hear each other clearly. During those difficult years, it wasn’t only mobile telephony that caused an upheaval in Greek life. In the early 1990s, the revolution in telecommunications and the world of information that had already gripped other parts of the planet was knocking loudly on our door. In 1993, the word Internet still meant nothing in Greece, where people were pleased to be able to make a phone call from their car, even while driving. The Greek press carried the first articles on the wonderful new world of cyberspace, which seemed more like a threat against humanity than a boon. The Internet was initially associated with hackers and the sex industry. Ten years later, a world without the Internet is unimaginable. The Internet symbolized the passage to the new age, a watershed that in the future will probably be put on an equal footing with the invention of the printing press or electric power. But it is not only the Internet. Looking at the cultural scene, the 1990s marked an unprecedented change in scale for Greece, and in values which were naturally linked with broader political and social changes. In 1993, the political arena was dominated by the Andreas Papandreou vs Constantine Mitsotakis tug of war, while Constantine Karamanlis continued to wield considerable influence. In 1993, the convergence of the Greek economy with those of developed Western countries seemed like a bad joke – it was a time when single-digit inflation was just a dream. The change in the economic climate (symbolically linked with Andreas Papandreou’s departure from the political scene and the accession of Costas Simitis) also spread to the cultural sector. Until then, trade publishing was still undeveloped but the publication of new books was to almost double within the space of a few years. The book market expanded by leaps and bounds – new jobs were created in both old and new publishing houses. The new books were attractive, and translations of foreign titles multiplied. The Greek market reduced the great distance that separated it from other European countries. In 2001, 6,808 new titles were published, an impressive figure for Greece, but still very small compared to similar-sized countries such as Belgium, for example, or Hungary. Nevertheless, in recent years the situation has stagnated somewhat. In 2000, there were 439 new books of Greek fiction, but in 2001, just 500. While in the 1990s, Greek book publishing broke out of the underdeveloped mold, it now has to take another leap forward, for which it seems to be unprepared, at least at present. Stagnation is not restricted to the book trade. In the theater, there has been an explosive increase in new theater companies. In 1993 there were 74; last year there were 141, and this figure continues to rise, in contrast to the publishing trade. However, this welcome sign of healthy creativity is not necessarily related to true modernization, which would imply new infrastructure – large stages, comfortable seats, respect for both actors and audiences. But is that the case? Most new theaters have been constructed in old factories or warehouses in the city center. That is all well and good, but it is not enough. The situation is far better for the movie-going public. Not only have the number of cinemas multiplied in both Athens and Thessaloniki, but they are of a standard that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Many might disagree with the aesthetics of the multiplex cinemas, but the figures show that they have attracted a larger sector of the population than the old theaters did, although the numbers are still low for a European country. Those of the old cinemas that refurbished their premises have survived. Apart from the multiplexes, there are also venues, such as the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Greek Cinema Club or the Filmcenter cinemas (as evident from the massive turnout for the recent Tarkovski retrospective). Of course quantity does not necessarily mean quality. The Greek recording industry has seen an impressive increase in the number of new CDs released each year, from 64 in 1993 to 929 last year. However, anyone who turns on the radio or television has the impression that only 15 or 20 are for sale. As for official sales, the situation is far from ideal, as pirate recordings have not only affected the local market but have embarrassed the country abroad. Greece today is a very different country than it was in 1993, just as people are not the same as they were 10 years ago. The culture market has broadened and, in some cases, been accompanied by real progress. The future will show if this is not a fleeting trend. The only certain thing is that 2013 will be nothing like the year that has just dawned.