Network: My technology: The lazy man's guide to life

Sit back and let various bits of technology do absolutely everything for you, says the actor John Barrowman
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The Independent Culture
Last Christmas I brought my entire family, from my sister to my grandmother, each a Connectix Colour Quickcam. I had used one myself for almost three years, which I had bought in the States, where they have been using them for video conferences since the early Nineties.

I don't know why it hasn't caught on over in Britain. Just think: if The Independent used video cameras, we could be talking on the phone and you would also see me sitting in my office and I could see you typing away on the computer.

It's stunningly cheap. If I say to my parents in Florida that I will be on the Internet at around six in the evening, which would be one in the afternoon for them, they can connect on to the Net at the same time and we can chat for four hours, or five minutes - it costs the same. The deal with Direct Connection is that when you connect after six in the evening, it's only costs you the price of one international telephone call.

So I can type and see. I have also installed a speaker on my computer, so that I can talk in real time. You really appreciate how it enables you to see nieces and nephews even when you live a long way from them, and you can so easily miss out on so much because kids grow up very quickly. Or, as happened recently when I had my hallway fixed, and I wanted to show my parents, I just swivelled the Quickcam around. My parents, naturally, don't have a clue about technology, and really had to be persuaded into using it. It's a generation thing.

The picture is pretty good quality, although it depends on the other technology you are using it with. (My monitor runs from black and white to thousands of colours, so it can do a lot of things.) The Quickcam shows a frame per second, and it's like slow motion; if you move too quickly it won't pick up the entire movement. It also depends upon what setting you use; if you want higher picture quality, it's slower delivery. And vice versa.

My friends say that I am a computer nerd, but I just like using the available technology to my advantage. For instance, I don't write correct grammar anymore; I just use the Grammar Check when the work is finished. But then again, I am unusual among theatre people, who mostly don't have a clue about technology. I read Net magazine, MacUser and Mac, picking them up when I am on planes, or else I find out about new technology from billboard advertisements when I am in America.

I also use a Sony digital video camera, and then I edit the film using the Avid Videoshop programme. I am especially proud of my Christmas cards that I made using this programme. First, I taped myself singing a Christmas tune; then, using a programme called Quick Cards, I chose what kind of template or card I wanted, dropped the video into the Quick Cards programme and hey, presto. What took a lot of time was then sending the card out via e-mail. Video files take about 30 minutes to be compressed, but if I hadn't compressed it could have taken two hours.

Most of the songs I have sung in shows are now on a computer file, so they are on hand if I need to reference them in the future. Plus I am setting up a Web page in the next couple of months and already have a newsletter on the Web, run by Steve Warner, which enables contact between myself and my fans (JohnNews@aol.com). And, like anybody else, I play games. I am just getting into Tomb Raider 3 and I play Scrabble on the computer, which is excellent because you can hook up to the Internet and play with someone in another country. And, rather than buy a naff little trinket when I travel, I often buy CD-Roms of the museum or city.

I am not an organised person; but the computer makes it easier for me to be organised. Basically you just need to drag and drop. I used to have a PA, but now I have found with the computer I can do a lot of it myself. It makes me think that I am in control, because everything is contained right in front of me rather than splayed everywhere, right in front of me. I am lazy, you could say so, yes.

John Barrowman is currently appearing in `Beauty and the Beast' at the Dominion Theatre (0171-656 1888)

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