Microchips - a complete waste of time

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
LET US suppose (for some of you it will, of course, be easy) that you are a person of no visual taste at all. Yet some primitive faculty of observation has told you that being a "designer" is more fashionable than being, say, a Progress Chaser in a knitwear factory, or a Supervisor of Parking Controls. You believe that, were you a "designer", young women in grey clothes would entwine themselves around you at the sort of dimly lit Soho clubs you would be going to. You would not have to put up with abominable bosses with wet handshakes, criticising your chitties, were you a "designer", nor with matey Human Resources Executives with rods up their bottoms, nor with compulsory overtime, rush jobs for the US market, chaos on Park Lane, or any of the other dreary, runny-nosed, enervating imbecilities of the non-"designer" life.

But, as we have established, you have no eye. You are visually depraved. You cannot draw. Your friends won't come to your house because it is so horrible. You dress worse than Jarvis Cocker and it's not even ironic. How can you be a "designer"? What can you "design"?

The answer is simple: watches. The basic skills you need are minimal. You need a circle for the face, three little lines for the hands, and some numbers round the edge. That's it. All that remains is to give your creativity full rein, and bugger it up.

A look around the watch-shops will reveal just how much buggering-up is possible, given good will, adequate investment, and the aesthetic judgement of a sprout. Knobbly bits, barky bits, gold-and-silver bits; sparkly bits, lumpy bits, unnecessarily big bits, horribly rounded bits, and, above all, unnecessary bits. Bits that remember telephone numbers, play music, point to magnetic north; bits that tell you the phase of the moon, your heartbeat, the altitude, the time of day in places where they don't even know what day it is. What can you do with these things? Do you use them to construct some appalling interior monologue? "Here we are aboard this Boeing 747; it's 19:22:41 in Bulawayo, the moon's in the third quarter, we're at 35,287ft heading due east and Mr Hodgkinson's home phone is 812 38173; looks like the pilots know what they're doing, at least so far. Time to relax with a little light music."

Seductive? I should jolly well say so, though my taste in styling tends towards Category A (hulking great brutish moron) rather than Category B (East End tower-block vinyl-padded home cocktail bar). It's a curious sort of allure, a bit like the forbidden sleazy attractions of the cheaper sort of hooker.

I was nearly caught the other day. My old watch (hideously ugly, but redeemed by having been issued by Her Majesty's Ministry of Defence) superannuated itself with a slow valetudinarian creak and a rusty "dink" from inside its insides. After hours and hours of wandering about in the rain looking in watch-shop windows, during which I several times nearly settled on obscenities such as the Elvis-with-a- guitar watch, the tiger-patterned pocket-watch, the illegible-in-any-lighting digital watch and the ludicrous "Fighter Pilot" watch (as in "I wish I'd been a fighter pilot instead of being Deputy Sales Manager, Disposable Writing Products Divn.") with so many features that, by the time you'd worked out what time it was, the war would be over.

Then I saw it. The Millennium Countdown watch. Not only was it majestically ugly, but it also had a special window which counted down to ... guess what? Yes! The Millennium! Even though we all know when it's going to be!

Well-meaning friends dragged me away, but I shall sneak back under cover of daylight and buy one. For this is a watch of serious purpose. I don't know what it actually does when it reaches the end of its countdown, but if I were the designer, I'd rig the thing so that at 00:00 on 01/01/2000 it gave a little sepulchral gurgle and then exploded, blowing your hand off at the wrist. Who knows? Perhaps that's what it will do, and they just haven't told us, as a sort of postmodern joke.

It would certainly be appropriate, because it's at precisely that moment that the world's going to end. There was yet another article the other day telling us so. On the stroke of midnight, the washing machine, the video, the microwave and the Hoover will whine frantically into pointless activity, only to shut down as the world's electricity grid goes quietly offline. The Internet will crash for good, oil pipelines will get bunged up and explode, gasometers will go on filling with nasty North Sea gas until they bulge and blow up, train signalling will go on the blink, aeroplanes will fall out of the sky or, hopelessly lost, collide with each other over major cities, and no good picking up the telephone to call the police because the minute you lift the handset, 350,000 volts will surge into your ear, sucking all the goodness out of your Calvin Klein underpants-elastic and blowing your feet off.

In short, it'll all be absolutely lovely, with that strange savage joy of the Long-Awaited Come-Uppance. Because I suddenly realised that two- thirds of my life has been lived without microchips, and the entire civilisation of which I am a lucky member has been achieved with-out the bloody things, too. There is nothing that microchips have enabled us to do, except e-mail. Everything else from navigation to phone calls, from laundry to literature, has been done perfectly well without them. All they've done is enable us to save a few bob here and a few hours there, at the cost of huge investment and a colossal waste of time. Come the millennium, it'll all come to an end, and archaeologists will look back with a wild surmise at this hideous, nerve-wracking, insane interlude in our history. Which is why I want an Exploding Millennium Wristwatch Bomb: so that I can prepare the huge smirk on my face for the very moment that civilisation gets a second chance. Providing the thing doesn't pack up at 23:59:59 on New Year's Eve. !

Comments