Yesterday London officially switched off its analogue TV signal, marking the end of the transition to digital TV, which although is widely hailed as a good and proper advancement, also sparked some bittersweet sentiment due to another casualty that came with it – Ceefax.
With the end of analogue, so too came the end of Ceefax, a teletext service that was loaded on your television screen and has been in use since 1974. Ceefax transmitted on unused parts of the broadcast spectrum and provided access to up-to-date news stories, sports scores, weather forecasts, and a host of other features designed to entertain, such as quizzes, games, and the like.
Although Ceefax was originally designed to be primarily a subtitle service, it soon became much more, and provided a large population with near instant access to information in an era before the personal computer and even before many 24-hours news channels were common, and well before widespread access to the internet. Even after such information became readily available via other means, the ease of access, speed, and convenience of the teletext service continued to be useful to a large audience. Factor in the fact that the service was free of charge, and it’s understandable to see why it remained popular despite its limited capabilities and rudimentary interface.
Although not completely gone yet, the service will still be available in Tyne Tees and certain areas of south-east England, and Northern Ireland, those areas too will be making the switch to digital later this year, and soon Ceefax will be gone from England for good.
As the millions of Londoners who lost service yesterday looked back nostalgically on Ceefax, mostly with fond memories or wry jokes and comments, we were all served a stark reminder of how new technologies and products push out the old.
Just as video killed the radio star, the internet killed the teletext signal.
Still, there’s nothing wrong with remembering and paying tribute to once ground-breaking services and technologies that build the framework for future advances. I may love my Playstation and Wii, but like many other gamers, I also have fond memories of the old Commodore 64.
So yes, it’s okay to be sad that Ceefax is gone, even if it does seem silly and obsolete, because while it was there, it was great. We eagerly look forward to see what other great things may come.