The Queen: How Her Majesty experienced the technological revolution during her reign | UK News
In the year of the Queen’s birth, 1926, the first demonstration of mechanical television took place, followed a year later by the first electric television.
It was an era when less than half of Britain’s homes had an electricity supply supplied at an incompatible range of voltages and frequencies by a motley assortment of mainly coal-fired generators.
Before her coronation in 1953, television sales – and rentals – had soared and the ceremony was broadcast by the BBC to an average of 17 people per set, although the images were in black and white.
Computers existed at the time, but they were rare, used only for calculations, and were often larger than cars. Today, of course, they are indispensable in almost all areas of our lives, smaller than shoes and almost ubiquitous.
During her reign, the Queen adapted to the greatest technological shift in human history – and took the opportunity to remind us that it’s not our technology, but our values that define us.
As the world adapted to technological change, she not only strove to keep the monarchy relevant – she regularly used new inventions to thematize how she could “appear as a fairly distant figure […] someone whose face may be familiar […] but which never really touches your personal life” as she described it – but also our self-image in the face of this change.
These quoted words were spoken in 1957 on The Queen’s Christmas Show, which was the first to be televised. Her grandfather George V had his very first show on the radio 25 years ago.
“I really hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct,” she said of the landmark.
She would reflect in 2017 on how “six decades later the host of this show has ‘evolved’ somewhat,” as has the technology she describes, but that original television address seems enduringly relevant.
“It’s not the new inventions that present the difficulty,” she said. “Trouble is caused by thoughtless people who carelessly throw away timeless ideals as if they were old and worn-out machines.
“They would cast aside religion, make morality irrelevant in personal and public life, count honesty as stupid, and substitute self-interest for self-control.
“At this critical moment in our history, we will surely lose the world’s trust and respect if we simply abandon these fundamental principles that have guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and the Commonwealth.”
In a 1962 broadcast, she spoke of the first communications satellite to have transmitted live television images across the Atlantic — and stressed the need for good in the world, regardless of the technological medium.
“The ancient sages followed a star: modern man built one,” she said, referring to the birth and launch of the Telstar 1 satellite.
“But if this new star’s message is not the same as theirs, our wisdom will be worth nothing. Now we can all say that the world is my neighbor and only by serving one another can we reach for the stars.”
The technology itself continued to develop rapidly. The Queen sent her first email on March 26, 1976, using a military machine under the username HME2, connected to something called ARPANET – a computer network that would eventually lead to the Internet as we know it.
In her 1983 Christmas show — the year Apple launched its first commercial personal computer with a graphical user interface — she noted how it took her grandfather George V three months to make the round trip to Delhi, a Journey she recently completed in one hour and marveled at the “communication revolution”.
“Despite these advances, the age-old problems of human communication still exist,” she said. “We have the ability to send and receive messages, we can travel to distant parts of the world for meetings, we can exchange experts, but we still struggle to find the right messages to send, we can still get the messages ignore what we don’t hear. We don’t like to hear, and we can still talk and listen in riddles without trying to understand.
“Perhaps even more serious is the risk that this mastery of technology will blind us to people’s more basic needs. Electronics cannot create camaraderie; Computers cannot generate compassion; Satellites cannot transmit tolerance.”
The World Wide Web was launched a decade later and the Queen’s first Christmas show to be published on the internet aired in 1997. In the future I have absolutely no doubt that the only certainty is change – and the pace of that change only seems to be increasing increase.”
At that time, only a quarter of the country’s households had internet access. By 2012, when Her Majesty’s Christmas Message was broadcast in 3D for the first time, only a quarter didn’t.
In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II made her first post on Twitter on a visit to the Science Museum, and on a return visit in 2019, she made her first post on Instagram – a letter from computer pioneer Charles Babbage to her great-great-grandfather Prince Albert in July 1842 – and described her enjoyment of learning about children’s computer programming initiatives.
The date changed, the medium changed, but the message of welcoming the innovations of the future while appreciating the wisdom of the past did not throughout her reign. As she said in 1999, “I don’t think we should be overly anxious. We can understand the future – if we understand the lessons of the past.
“The future isn’t just about new devices, modern technology or the latest fashions, important as they may be. At the center of our lives – today and tomorrow – must be the message of caring for others, the message at the heart of Christianity and all major religions.
“This message—love your neighbor as yourself—may be 2,000 years old to Christians. But it is as relevant today as ever. I believe it gives us the guidance and affirmation we need as we cross the threshold into our twenty-first century.
“And I’m certainly looking forward to this new millennium.”