Perhaps it’s because I returned to reading Rian Hughes’ The XX over the weekend, with all its ponderings about the nature of ideas and how infectious information can be — and what it’s actually capable of doing to us, as a result — but I found myself thinking about Teletext for the first time in quite some time recently.
Most people, I’m sure, won’t remember Teletext at all; it’s this strange oddity that will die off when a certain generation does, I suspect, and something that only really is remembered in the same way that certain bands, television commercials, and brands of snack food are, with the nostalgic devotion of the niche fan. (So, of course it’s something that I remember fondly; that description fits me so well, it’s as if it’s a glove I made for myself.)
Teletext was fueled by the same technology that made closed captioned subtitles possible, but instead of simply sending a line or two of dialogue to your television at any one time, it sent entire screens of information, with multiple pages available through keying in specific three-digit numbers and waiting for the correct information to cycle through. Positioned as a transmitted magazine, it was a pre-internet internet, complete with 8-bit graphics and a flavor of snark in its tone that would come to dominate online writing for a decade or more.
There were three “channels” of Teletext in the UK when I was a teenager; the BBC’s was called Ceefax, and I sadly can’t remember what either ITV or Channel 4’s was called; each broadcast network was responsible for its own Teletext content, and each network has its own tone and attitude towards the format.
I was, of course, a fan. I loved that the information was constantly updated and available — it was like a newspaper, but always up to date and always there! — and I loved that it felt infinite, with pages available for seemingly all interests and tastes. Channel 4’s music coverage, in particular, I remember being an essential stepping stone between Smash Hits and Popbitch, two references that likely mean nothing to most and everything to those that recognize them.
Teletext feels like a missing piece of information history today, oddly, and an essential piece of my mental DNA. Who might I have been if I hadn’t been exposed to that? What career might I have discovered without it?