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Television 1970s - 1990s

In 1975, it was estimated that 94 percent of families owned black-and-white television sets.

Colour television was launched in 1975, rejuvenating interest in the medium. Within three years of its launch, it was estimated that 70 percent of households in Sydney owned a colour television set.

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Television production techniques also developed throughout the decade. In 1979, for example, a camera mounted inside a car transmitted images of the Bathurst 1000 car race directly to viewers at home. This gave viewers a much more exciting, first-hand television experience.

Satellite or 'pay' television was introduced in 1995. Pay TV enabled Australians to access a much greater range of sport, news, movie and entertainment channels, 24 hours a day.

Radio in the 1970s

FM radio began broadcasting in Sydney in 1974. FM radio employs technology that provides a much higher quality, less distorted sound than AM broadcast.

FM radio also created space on the airwaves for a greater variety of commercial stations, as well as small niche stations. In 1975 the government funded the development of several multicultural radio stations. Two of these stations, 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne, were eventually combined to form the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).

Advertising 1970s - 1990s

Advertising is considered to have had a major effect on encouraging consumption in Australia. The sustained growth of communication forms like television and radio, allowed advertising to extend its powerful influence over Australian culture and society.

From the 1970s onwards, advertising became increasingly modern, sophisticated and targeted. Its forms also diversified - for example, advertising appeared on the internet and in movies and television through careful product placement.

By tempting audiences with a specifically targeted message, advertising helped create desires for a range of goods and services. As well as communicating to consumers that their product will satisfy a basic need, in some cases advertising also works by implying that a product will project other social meanings like 'success' or 'modernity' onto the user.

Telephones in the 1970s

By 1973, almost three-quarters of Australian families had a home telephone. Telephone technology was constantly improving. In the late 1970s, the rotary dial telephone was replaced with a keypad model, called the Touchfone 10, making dialling even quicker.

STD (subscriber trunk dialling) was joined by international subscriber dialling (ISD) in 1976. ISD took Australians one step closer to the rest of the world, enabling callers to dial directly overseas, rather than having to call an operator to connect them. Initially available to Sydney residents, ISD had spread across Australia by the end of the decade.

Telephones in the 1980s

Answering machines became popular during the 1980s. Answering machines picked up unanswered phone calls and recorded a message from the caller. They offered particular commercial benefits to small business owners who could not always stay by the telephone to answer calls.

Mobile phones first appeared in Australia in the mid 1980s. The early models were much larger and heavier than today's models, weighing more than half a kilogram. In 1987, mobile phones were first made commercially available, for the hefty sum of $4250.

Telephones in the 1990s

During the late 1990s, mobile phones transformed from being a rare, expensive form of communication to something that many people were reluctant to live without.

Mobile phones became smaller and cheaper in the 1990s and their uptake in Australia was rapid. In 1990, just 1 percent of Australians were estimated to own a mobile phone. In 1995 this rate had increased to 13 percent and by 1999, around 45 percent of Australians owned a mobile phone.

Mobile phones allowed for greater freedom of movement and changed the way people communicated. People could be contacted anywhere, anytime and borders between activities became blurred, for example, people could stay in touch with work while enjoying leisure time. Many social groups, especially amongst young people, maintained their connections through mobile phone conversations and text messaging.

While they provided a new method of social connection, mobile phones also threatened to socially isolate those without mobile access.

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Health effects of mobile phone usage

Throughout the 1990s, debate raged over whether mobile phones had a negative effect on human health. Mobile phone handsets emit electromagnetic waves and some people believed that this radiation could injure brain tissue and cause brain tumours. Despite the concerns, it was not conclusively proven that mobile phones caused brain damage and most people continued to use them.

Fibre optics

The 1980s saw a fibre optic cable network established in some parts of Australia. Fibre optics are very thin, transparent strands of glass that can transmit a much greater volume of information than the traditional electrical 'copper' cables.

Throughout the 1990s, fibre optic technology revolutionised the field of communication. With a system that could carry an almost unlimited quantity of data at rapid speed, long-distance phone calls, television and the internet became faster and higher in quality.

Satellite technology in the 1980s

In 1986, Australia launched AUSSAT, the nation's own communications satellite. AUSSAT had an enormous impact on communications services in rural areas. It allowed transmission of information across vast, unpopulated areas, enabling people in remote areas to receive television broadcasts and basic telephone services.

By the end of the 1980s, Australia had established a sophisticated communications network. Almost all Australians had access to basic communication and the technology infrastructure was state-of-the-art. As Australia headed into the next decade, it was well-placed to participate in the internet revolution that was to come.

Computers 1970s - 1990s

Computers in the 1970s were large and cumbersome and used only by large organisations like universities and banks. In 1977, developments in satellite technology made it possible for Australian computers to link with overseas computers for the first time.

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Word processors were common in many offices by the end of the 1980s and many schools had purchased their first computers. In 1984, IBM introduced its first batch of PCs (personal computers) to Australian customers. They were cheap enough for many people to afford and a small number of families acquired home computers for activities like word processing and playing computer games.

By the mid-1990s, computers had become an indispensable part of everyday life. Computers were standard in most workplaces, schools, libraries and universities and computer skills were considered essential in many occupations. By the end of the decade, it was estimated that 3.5 million Australian families owned a computer.

Computers and employment

The advent of computers certainly made many operations faster and more efficient, but it also led to wide-scale job losses.

In1979, for example, Telecom introduced 11 000 computers into its operations. Around 150 000 jobs were lost as a result, with only 2400 new computer jobs created. Throughout the 1970s these job losses were mirrored in many other industries, such as printing and manufacturing with unemployment hitting record rates.

High unemployment remained a problem in the 1990s. Information technology, however, had become a major global industry and many new computer-related jobs were created. In 1996, it was estimated that over 100 000 Australians worked in the computer industry, in occupations ranging from computer programming to IT consulting.

The internet - 1990s

As personal computers became more common throughout the 1980s, the huge potential of internet technology became evident. Scientists began to develop a single, linked information system that could be used across a whole range of computers and the World Wide Web (WWW) was born.

Throughout the 1990s, the internet proved to be one of the greatest communication advances of the century. It created a direct line of communication between people all over the world, allowing them to access and share vast amount of information. People could also perform many daily tasks from their personal computers.

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The internet in Australia

Australia has a great tradition of enthusiastically welcoming new technology and this tradition continued with the advent of the internet.

When the internet first emerged in the mid-1990s, less than 4 percent of Australian households had access to it. By the end of the decade, this figure had risen to 37 percent, and the rate continued to rise into the next decade. By 2005, internet usage in Australia was estimated at around 68 percent.

Positive effect of the internet on society

In the late 1990s, the internet had a revolutionary effect on the everyday lives of many Australians.

Work and the internet

The internet created greater work flexibility, as some employees began to work from home. This allowed for more varied work hours, more time to spend with family, cost savings by not spending money on petrol and environmental benefits from reduced car use. Workers could also be reached while away on holiday or business trips.

Recreation and the internet

The internet was a popular leisure pursuit during the 1990s. People could send emails, chat to friends, play online games, or explore any topic imaginable (Refer to Topic1, Chapter 3).

Shopping and the internet

In the 1990s, Australians could do their banking and pay their bills from their home computers. Home shopping became a large industry, with many businesses setting up websites to display their products online. This provided cost savings to business owners, who did not have to employ as many shop assistants, or rent out a shop space.

The internet: A world open to all, or a digital divide?

In many ways, the internet dissolved cultural, economic and geographic barriers and opened up communication access to everyone - regardless of their race, age, class, sex or appearance. The anonymous nature of the internet meant that people could become educated, or socialise or create other opportunities in daily life that would have otherwise been unavailable to them. A child who was shy and had difficulty making friends at school, for example, could use the internet to make friends in online social groups.

In the 1990s, the internet also had the potential to provide more democratic access to the media, circumnavigating the traditional media outlets like television and radio stations. Any person who owned a computer and a modem could potentially release their own news broadcasts to the rest of the world.

As the world became increasingly online-focused throughout the 1990s, social inequalities began to appear. Surveys showed that some groups in Australian society: ethnic minorities, the poor, older people and those living in rural areas, for example, used the internet much less than the rest of society.

Those who could not or did not access the internet were cut off from information necessary for accessing social services, obtaining an education or advancing a career. The internet was also becoming an important medium for public discussion. People without internet access were less able to debate issues of public concern and actively participate in political life.

As the internet became deeply imbedded in the fabric of society in the 1990s, many people without internet access found it increasingly difficult to fully participate in many facets of everyday life. This unequal access to information and communication technology is known as a 'digital divide.'


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