Jim contemplates information technology’s effect on our lives and flyfishing.

When I started fishing with a fly rod, the digital age had not even begun. My first memory of it was some sort of game shuttling a ball back and forth on a dark grey and white screen. Weird when I think back. I guess I was over 40 years of age before I obtained a basic computer, then called a word processor, which was a huge improvement on a typewriter. One could erase a sentence or paragraph and start again! A mobile phone came even later in shoebox size, and then of course a progression of improved and smaller mobile phones arrived, eventually capable of texting messages and pictures all over the world in an instant. All essential elements of modern life today.

While discussing with The Flyfisher’s Andrew Fuller the topic of retailing in this new age of social media – dealing with its many benefits and also the problems – he commented on my oft-quoted quatrain from Omar Khayyam, repeated a few paragraphs down. The lies, fake news and then the speed of which information (true or false) is transferred today, never ceases to amaze this old feather-duster.

My memories of early business days in the tackle trade are of airmail letters to suppliers in England and America which would take a week to arrive, and then another week to receive a reply. If urgent, an expensive-per-word telegram could be sent from the post office. Then came the telex machine, and a lot later, the fax machine. Only a couple of decades on, all are now considered dinosaurs by the young retailers of today.

Now, social media sites are ever-present with reports of fishing from the same day or even the same hour. Some post text or video; some just photos of trophy fish. Superficially at least, today’s angler might believe they don’t have to read a report or even a fishing magazine or book to get information. It can seem as if it’s all at their fingertips on a screen. As one result, many collectible and instructional fishing books that until recently anglers absorbed and relied on, have collapsed in value. The world has changed.

Earlier we mentioned the ancient quatrain I often quote, attributed to a Persian philosopher Omar Khayyam, who lived from 1048 to 1131. I think his words have even more relevance today than a thousand years ago when they were written:

The moving finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,

Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.

How did those words survive nearly a millennium, possibly written on parchment or some ancient scroll hidden away in a cave or crumbling building? But survive they have and probably the words are more important today than ever.

When I look at what happens on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the like, I note none of the postings can be erased. They head into the ‘cloud’ to be retrieved at any time and, more importantly, forever; by anyone!

I read of restaurant ratings posted on the internet by customers. Some in appreciation, some fair and constructive, and still others apparently telling straight fibs. Retail traders and brand owners today can find their genuine hard work crucified by opposition posters telling horrendous lies on social media to scare off potential buyers, sometimes even suggesting their own or alternate brand or store. Unbelievably unfair and with limited legal recourse for the target, because the poster can often be anonymous or at least have their identity well-hidden. Theoretically, these posts can linger online until the end of man’s time on this planet.

But of course, there are also positive sides to this technological age. Modern flyfishing gear, with the help of materials like carbon fibre and breathable waterproof fabric, has improved amazingly fast. Even trout flies often no longer use fur and feather, which can be replaced by extremely effective artificial substitutes. Meanwhile, digital cameras lifted into the sky on modern drones, are changing fishing and its photography forever.

With the help of science, carp have been totally eradicated from Tasmania’s Lake Crescent and hopefully, ever more effective technology will soon see their extinction in nearby Lake Sorell. Meanwhile, the modern depth sounder/sonar can identify species and size and can scan sideways. All impossible only a very few years ago.

Using social media and mobile phones, today’s angler can inform authorities in an instant of illegal fishing, a flood, fire or other catastrophe as it happens. Similarly, help after a fall, snakebite or other accident can send a rescue helicopter on its way in a few minutes.

The changes are mind-boggling to this old angler who is sometimes accused of dwelling in the past. I look back on and have written before of the freedom we had as youngsters. As a community, we have become scared because of the ease with which publicity is given to all the things that go wrong. Are there more assaults, molestations? Is there more theft, is there more bullying and is life really more dangerous for the children of today? Probably not.

Some things have certainly changed for the worse. As a boy I cannot ever remember allergies that require schools to have EpiPens on hand at all times. Some schools today will not even allow a peanut butter sandwich in the schoolgrounds. On the flipside, while traffic has increased tenfold since then, deaths on Victorian roads have decreased by more than 80% since the 1960s.

I like to think the glass is half full and we will pass on to the next generation better fisheries, and a better lifestyle than the one we inherited. We haven’t seen a major war, or a bad depression like our forefathers endured, for many years. The green movement has made us think before littering, interested us in conservation of habitat for our fish, and made us all much more aware of our environment. The digital age has changed our lives forever and yet we can still learn much from the past, particularly from that old quatrain written nearly a thousand years ago.